MELBOURNE, Australia – Canada’s FIFA Women’s World Cup campaign got off to a rocky start as the Olympic champions settled for a goalless draw with Nigeria on Friday.
The Canadians had a great chance to take the lead in the game.
But captain Christine Sinclair’s penalty was missed in the 50th minute.
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The 40th-ranked Nigerians relied on a physical defense and looked for counter-attacks, while the seventh-ranked Canadians found success early on.
But the Super Falcons settled in as the first half wore on and started asking Canada questions.
It wasn’t exactly a pretty game, but there were moments of drama. None more so than at the start of the second half.
Sinclair appealed for a penalty in the 47th minute when she was tackled by Francisca Ordega in the box and went down.
Initially there was no call, but Finnish referee Lina Lehtovaara eventually indicated the penalty after reviewing the video.
Sinclair stepped up and aimed for the corner, only to see Nigerian goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie make a fantastic one-handed save to push the ball away from an onrushing Sinclair.
It was a good penalty attempt, but a better save. Nnadozie, who plays in France for Paris FC, pumped her fists.
Sinclair, on the ground after unsuccessfully trying to get a second bite on the apple after the save, looked despondent.
The 191 career goal will have to wait for the captain of Canada.
Jessie Fleming, Canada’s penalty taker, was on the bench – deemed not fit to start.
Sinclair came off in the 71st minute, making way for fellow veteran Sophie Schmidt.
There were anxious moments at both ends in the final quarter of the game with both teams looking for the go-ahead goal.
An acrobatic one-legged save by Canadian goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan in the 80th minute was followed by an offside flag to negate the game.
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Eight minutes of extra time followed which saw Nigeria midfielder Deborah Abiodun sent off after video review for a bad tackle on Ashley Lawrence.
The Canadian women leave Melbourne on Monday for Perth, some 2,720 kilometers west, to face No. 22 Ireland on July 26.
The Irish lost 1-0 to No. 10 Australia in Sydney on Thursday.
Canada next meets Australia on July 31 in Melbourne.
Finishing second in Group B would mean a possible round of 16 date with fourth-placed England, the reigning European champions.
It was partly sunny and 11 degrees Celsius at kick-off (12:30pm local time on Friday and 10:30pm ET on Thursday in Canada) at Melbourne’s Rectangular Stadium, otherwise known as AAMI Park.
Home of rugby league’s Melbourne Storm, rugby union’s Melbourne Rebels and football’s Melbourne Victory and Melbourne Heart, the stadium is located opposite the Australian Open tennis complex and the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
The stadium was not full, but the announced crowd of 21,410 was enthusiastic, with the majority appearing to cheer for the Nigerians.
The game featured the two oldest players on the tour with Sinclair (40 years 39 days) and Nigeria’s Onome Ebi (40 years 74 days) both in their sixth World Cup.
Ebi started on the bench.
It was cover no. 324 for Sinclair, the world’s all-time leading scorer.
It was also the start of World Cup no. 22 for the talismanic captain – only retired Americans Kristine Lilly (29) and Joy Fawcett (23) have more starts on the tour.
Deanne Rose, who raced to make Canada’s roster after a long absence with an Achilles injury, was named in the starting 11, which carried a combined cap count of 1,040 in the match .
Nichelle Prince, who was also sidelined with an Achilles injury, was on the bench.
Jordyn Huitema led the Canadian attack.
The Canadians dominated possession from the start, with the Nigerians content to lay back and defend, often with awkward shots.
The Super Falcons were taking no prisoners, although Canadian Quinn, who goes by one name, was given a stern warning for slashing Nigerian striker Asisat Oshoala, who plays for Barcelona.
Sinclair sent a shot high in the ninth minute from outside the penalty area.
As the Canadian pressure continued, it seemed only a matter of time before cracks appeared in the African defence.
But it was Nigeria who had the first real scoring chance in the 23rd minute, with Sheridan forced to make a diving save against a low shot from Ifeoma Onumonu as the Canadians were caught behind.
It was the only shot on goal for either team in the first half.
Huitema’s header went wide in the 29th minute.
Five minutes later, alarm bells rang as Sheridan slipped trying to clear a ball before a Nigerian striker could get to him.
Center back Vanessa Gilles, on a desperate heel, and then defender Ashley Lawrence had to clear the ball with the goal wide open and the Canadian defense in disarray.
And the Nigerians started to come forward.
Canada coach Bev Priestman brought on Cloe Lacasse for Rose to open the second half.
Another striker, Evelyne Viens, followed in the 64th minute and soon after had a shot on goal, only to send her shot from close range at the keeper.
Prince was sent into the game in the 83rd minute.
Canada came into the game with a 2-1-2 record against Nigeria, recording a 2-0 win and 2-2 draw when they met in a pair of matches in April 2022 in BC.
Nigeria held the advantage in their previous two World Cup meetings, drawing 3-3 in 1995 and winning 1-0 in 2011, when the Canadians finished last.
The Canadian women entered the game with an 8-14-5 record in the tournament, compared to 4-19-3 for Nigeria.
Canada’s best World Cup finish was fourth in 2003.
The Canadians, making their ninth trip to soccer’s showcase, lost to Sweden in the round of 16 four years ago in France.
Nigeria has qualified for all nine editions of the World Cup, getting out of the first round only twice (losing to Brazil in the quarter-finals in 1999 and Germany in the round of 16 in 2019).
The Super Falcons are 11-time African Women’s Cup of Nations winners, but finished fourth for the last time in 2022.
The African squad’s roster is backed by clubs from China, England, France, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and the USA, as well as Nigeria.
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