June 14, (THEWILL)- Two own goals and a last-gasp equaliser saw Nigeria’s senior women’s national football team the Super Falcons play out a thrilling 3-all draw against the Seleccao das Quintas of Portugal in their second tie to redeem some of their reputation after the initial poor display and loss to the Reggae Girlz of Jamaica on Thursday, June 10.
Portugal opened the scoring and doubled it in the first 34 minutes but the Falcons pulled one back to go into the interval with a goal deficit. The Seleccao restored their two-goal cushion early in the second period but the Nigerian ladies dug in to score two more and level the match before the final whistle.
Both sides entered the match with a 1-0 loss form. Portugal lost their first match of the series to the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) the same day that Nigeria lost by the same margin to Jamaica. It appeared they reserved the goals they failed to convert in those fixtures for Sunday.
The match presented Super Falcons’ head coach, Randy Waldrum, another return to his old stomping grounds where he functioned as head coach for the Houston Dash from 2014 to 2017.
As early as the 11th minute, Falcons’ goalkeeper Tochukwu Oluehi, who had a fantastic turn in the first tie against Jamaica, demonstrated quick reflexes in a great one-on-one stop near the top of the penalty box after a Portuguese attacker had busted through.
Finally featuring for the Nigerians, Super Falcons’ star striker and captain Asisat Oshoala, fresh off winning the UEFA Women’s Champions League with Barcelona, who did not arrive in Texas until yesterday due to travel logistics, displayed powerful pace to streak past the opponent’s defense but shot wide.
That waste of opportunity allowed Portugal to break the deadlock. They were helped to the goal when in the 22nd minute, defender Catarina Amado overlapped and bent a cross on the ground into the middle of the penalty area. Oluehi came out of her net to try to cut off the service, but her defender Chidinma Okeke darted in front of crashing Portugal forward Telma Encarnacao and inadvertently knocked the ball into her own net.
Encarnacao was there again in the 30th minute to convert a well-constructed Portugal attack up the middle ended with be onrushing Oluehi upending her in the box. However, the goal was struck off for offside even if replays show she was likely onside the whole time.
Four minutes after the half hour mark and Portugal scored again. A Andreia Jacinto free-kick crossed to the far post where Portugal captain Carole Costa was left explicably wide open. She accepted the invitation to volley home with authority from a somewhat sharp angle inside the six-yard box to give her side a two-goal lead.
A chance for a third went begging in the 42nd minute as the Portuguese ladies had the chance to turn the screw on their opponents. Jessica Silva of Kansas City NWSL entered the Nigerian box in one-on-one chance against Oluehi, who left her line to cut down the angle. But, as Silva rounded her to the right, she pushed the ball too far wide before shooting into the side netting.
That allowed Nigeria the change to pull a goal back off a short corner kick before the interval. Former U.S. youth international Toni Payne dribbled into the penalty before seeing her cross blocked. The ball fell to midfielder Rita Chikwelu, who had taken the corner kick, and she lofted a first-time cross back into the middle where Michelle Alozie, who plays for the Houston Dash reserves, knocked the ball home.
As the second half hour underway, the Seleccao profited from another defensive error to restore the goal gap. Substitute defender Onyinyechi Zogg’s poor clear attempt went straight to Jacinto who then played Encarnacao behind the defense, allowing her to deftly lob the ball over the onrushing Oluehi for a classy finish that was allowed to stand this time.
It was all the Super Falcons from that moment. The deciding combination of two Primera Iberdrola stars, Oshoala of Barca and Rasheedat Ajibade of Atletico Feminino was crucial to Nigeria’s recovery as the ladies also forced the Portuguese into a defensive error of their own.
Ajibade powered down the right channel before the hour mark and her cross to the near post saw Diana Gomes trying to hold off the charging Oshoala only for the ball hit her foot as she fell and cross the line into her own net. Portugal came forcefully for another goal but for the safe hands of Oluehi, who pushing away an almost point black shot for a corner kick in the 61st minute.
Although, Nigeria’s effort to level the scores did not materialise after another effort struck the crossbar seven minutes before the end of regulation time, the match was given an extra six minutes of stoppage time, which turned it to exactly what the Super Falcons needed.
They got helped when Portugal forward Melissa Gomes made a sloppy back pass in her own defensive third. Nigeria forward Gift Monday picked up the loose ball, played a short pass to Payne who raced down left before cutting a short pass back to Ajibade. The Atletico striker slid expertly to knock the ball into the right corner, sparking a wild celebration from the Nigerians as there was just enough time for the final whistle.
It was a much improved performance from their game against Jamaica and the return to the side of a player of the quality of Oshoala made a difference exactly as coach Waldrum said. In addition to that, there was more cohesion in the squad with a few defensive frailties that they will need to work on.
These top-quality friendly matches are working to help the team improve aspects of their game that need work and the difference in terms of improvements was obvious. The girls were not crestfallen even after going behind and the determination to come from a two-goal deficit twice is the sort of character that will be a confidence boost going forward.
While Portugal and Jamaica head home after two games, the USA and Nigeria will finish the Summer Series on June 16 in Austin, Texas. As THEWILL reported, they will feature in what will be the first-ever match at the brand new Q2 Stadium (it will be live on June 17, at 2:00am local time).