As the final whistle was blown at Winnipeg Stadium on Monday, the Nigerian coaching staff and players dropped to their knees in celebration after drawing fifth-ranked Sweden.
After trailing 2-0 at halftime, the Group of Death saw its first shocking result after a goal by Nigerian front-runner Francisca Ordega. With three minutes remaining in the match, the Washington Spirit forward timed her run to get behind the Swedish defense and slotted home the equalizing goal.
While Nigeria was deemed the inexperienced squad in the group, many overlooked the second-place finish at the U-20 World Cup. In the past, that experience stopped against senior clubs but not Monday as the Nigerians dominated the second half and put the third-place finishers in 2011 on their heels.
After huddling as a team at the end of the first half, words were exchanged as the coaching staff and substitutes waited on the sideline. The Super Falcons gave up two goals – both on corner kicks – one of them an own goal.
The energy came across in the second half as Nigeria evened up the match less than 10 minutes into the half. The comeback began in the 50th minute on a goal from Ngozi Okobi. Asisat Oshoal’s speed caught the Swedish back line by surprise three minutes later and Oshoal tied the match, 2-2.
With momentum and the crowd rooting for the Super Falcons, former U.S. and current Swedish head coach Pia Sundhage made a substitute that looked to change the game. Midfielder Linda Sembrant took the field in the 57th minute in place of a tiring Lisa Dahlkvist to strengthen the defense. Three minutes later, the substitute was on the receiving end of a 14-pass combination that ended with a simple touch in front of the Nigerian net to put the Swedes back in front, 3-2.
The goal didn’t stop the Nigerians who nearly scored just minutes after the go-ahead goal but it was Ordega who led the squad a draw against the powerful European team.
Despite the result, which will question the Swedish back four, the team was impressive on set pieces. After getting the early lead thanks to an own goal in the 21st minute that was deflected in by young forward Desire Oparanozie, the Swedes doubled their lead another corner kick.
After being served in by the European squad, Nigeria’s poor defense led to a clearance that was kept in play by Sweden. A low through ball was tapped in by Nilla Fischer in the 31st minute to give the lead that looked to be enough.
Both teams return to the field in Winnipeg on Friday with Sweden looking to rebound against the United States at 8 p.m. ET. Nigeria will have to refocus after its draw and face a gritty Australia in the early match at 5 p.m. ET.
Sweden (0-1-0; 1 point) vs. Nigeria (0-1-0; 1 point)
June 8, 2015 — Winnipeg Stadium, Winnipeg, Canada
Scoring by Period 1 2 F
Sweden 2 1 3
Nigeria 0 3 3
SWE: Desire Oparanozie (OG) 21’
SWE: Nilla Fischer 31’
NGA: Ngozi Okobi 50’
NGA: Asisat Oashoala 53’
SWE: Linda Sembrant 60’
NGA: Francisca Ordega 87’
SWE: Hedvig Lindahl, Emma Berglund (Amanda Ilestedt, 73’), Nilla Fischer, Lisa Dahlkvist (Linda Sembrant, 57’), Lotta Schelin, Kosovare Asillani (Olivia Schough, 46’), Sofia Jakobsson, Therese Sjogran, Lina Nilsson, Caroline Seger.
NGA: Precious Dede, Osinachi Ohale, Onome Ebi, Josephine Chukwunonye, Asisat Oshoala, Desire Oparanozie, Halimatu Ayinde, Ngozi Okobi, Evelyn Nwabuoku, Francisca Ordega, Ngozi Ebere