Nigeria advanced to the Women’s World Cup knockout stages for the third time in their history after a 0-0 draw with Ireland in their final Group B match on Monday, with the African side finishing second in the group behind hosts Australia.
Nigeria started the game top of the standings and only needed to avoid defeat to reach the last 16, regardless of the result in the other Group B match in Melbourne where Australia thrashed Canada 4-0 to leapfrog the Africans.
Nigeria will have to wait until Tuesday to discover who their last-16 opponents will be next week in Brisbane, but their side are likely to play European champions England who are favourites to top Group D.
“I don’t think anybody, before we got here, believed that we could get out of this group and go through it without losing a match,” Nigeria coach Randy Waldrum said.
“So I’m so proud of them and the effort they put in and so happy for them that they’re getting to experience this.”
Both teams were playing in their away kits to avoid an all-green clash. But Brisbane’s Lang Park was a sea of green in the stands, with plenty of support for Ireland despite their early elimination.
After Irish skipper Katie McCabe flashed an early effort wide, Nigeria came closest to taking the lead in the first half through striker Asisat Oshoala when they pounced on an errant pass from Louise Quinn.
Oshoala was set through on goal with just the keeper to beat but the Barcelona striker fired wide to give Ireland a reprieve.
Seven minutes into the second half, Uchenna Kanu rose above the Ireland defence to direct a header on goal but Courtney Brosnan made a timely save to parry the ball onto the crossbar and away to safety.
“It was an unbelievable ball into the box, one of those teasing ones I thought I could come at the last second. I dropped back and I knew I needed to make a special save on the line, so I just kind of threw my body out,” said Brosnan.
“I wanted to keep us in it. I knew we deserved something from today, so I’m really happy with that.”
Brosnan came to Ireland’s rescue again when Nigeria attempted to break through the defence with a clever set-piece routine before the Everton keeper rushed off her line to snatch the ball.
While debutants Ireland go home having earned their first ever point at the World Cup, Nigeria will be looking to better their quarter-final run from 1999.
“We knew this was going to be the group of death, we knew it was going to be hard,” midfielder Toni Payne said.
“If we play like how we’re playing, if we improve on each game, I think we can go all the way to the final.”