Often times, football comes down to perspective. After an enthralling 3-3 draw played out between Nigeria and Sweden at the Winnipeg Stadium in the first match of Group D at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015™, the one point earned by the Europeans likely feels like two points lost.
But for Desire Oparanozie and her Nigerian team-mates, that singular point is something to be treasured, and it could be an essential one for the Super Falcons and their hopes of reaching the knockout stage at the Women’s World Cup for the first time since USA 1999. “This draw feels like a win,” Oparanozie told FIFA.com after the match.
Things were not going as planned for the Super Falcons in the first half as Oparanozie scored an own goal 20 minutes in to give the Swedes the lead, despite Nigeria having the majority of the attacking chances at the other end of the pitch. Sweden would take a 2-0 lead into the break, but the Nigerian support in the stands never faltered, and Oparanozie credits the fans for the Super Falcons’ stunning second-half fight back.
“It really did help,” Nigeria’s No9 explained. “It motivated us a whole lot. It was a good thing knowing that the crowd was behind us. They wanted to see us score; they wanted to see us do more. That really made us push harder and give our all.”
Dancing, drama and delight
Oparanozie was able to put the unfortunate feeling of that first-half own goal behind her as she set up Ngozi Okobi for Nigeria’s first goal and then, only a few minutes later the Super Falcons were on level terms with Sweden. Pia Sundhage’s side looked to have three points locked up after Linda Sembrant’s strike, but Nigeria once again battled back and in the 87th minute they found another equaliser.
“There’s no word to explain this feeling,” Oparanozie said smiling. “It’s a great feeling. Having gone down two goals and having come back to level it is quite tremendous. We feel very happy.”
Nigerian spirits were high from start to finish in Winnipeg. From the moment the Super Falcons stepped off the coach, they were dancing and singing all the way to the dressing room. After they scored their equaliser to make it 3-3 with mere minutes to spare, the team gathered in the corner closest to their supporters to celebrate, while coach Edwin Okon quietly kneeled to the ground and prayed.
Clearly pleased with the result, Oparanozie directed her focus to Nigeria’s next challenge: a meeting with the Matildas on Friday. “After today, we are ready to take on any team,” Oparanozie said confidently when asked about how she would prepare for Australia. “We are not afraid to face anyone. We are ready.”