Nigeria took a major step towards the second round of the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup with a 2-1 victory over Japan in Augsburg. The Falconets, who had drawn 1-1 with England in their opening game in Group C, now have four points and are sure to be in a good position no matter what happens in the later match between England and Mexico.
The Japanese drew 3-3 with Mexico in a thrilling come-from-behind encounter on Wednesday but they couldn't build on that as Nigeria made Amarachi Okoronkwo and Desire Oparanozie’s early goals really count despite Mana Iwabuchi’s second half consolation.
The west Africans scored the opener in just the 6th minute after Ebere Orji’s tricky cross caused confusion between Shoko Yamada and goalkeeper Erina Yamane. With a race for the ball, Okoronkwo proved the fastest and touched in her first goal of the Germany tournament. The discouraging defensive lapse was multiplied just minutes later from what was only Nigeria’s second shot on goal.
Just like all the Falconets' goals in the tournament, it was created by Orji, in this case bursting with menace down the left flank. And again it was the same combination who had struck against England, with Oparanozie finishing coolly at the back post.
So Japan were two goals down for the second match on the trot, and just as they did against the Mexicans, they showed great spirit in their fight-back. Before half-time the impressive Iwabuchi created a chance - from which Nigeria goalkeeper Alaba Jonathan denied Natsuki Kishikawa - and then spurned one of her own when she dwelt on the ball when all alone in the area in injury time.
With Japan pushing and the Nigerians comfortable in attack, the match came to life in the second period, with Iwabuchi and Kishikawa going close. The Falconets showed how dangerous they could be as Esther Sunday played a quick one-two with Orji through the heart of the Japanese defence. Iwabuchi was the next star to shine, and she found the net thanks to her clever speed of thought, quickest to take advantage of some shaky goalkeeping in the 62nd minute.
However it was Sunday and Orji who continued to dominate proceedings in the last half hour, and the best chance to score in the final moments fell to Oparanozie at the end of a lightning-fast African counter.
Nigeria will next face Mexico on Wednesday in Bochum, while Japan take on England at the same time in Bielefeld.