England 0-0 (4-2) Nigeria: Lionesses scrape through after Lauren James sees red

Less than two weeks after mouthing ‘I’ve done my knee to members of England’s physio team, Keira Walsh returned to the Lionesses starting eleven as they prepared to face Nigeria in the round-of-sixteen – meaning Katie Zelem dropped to the bench, despite impressing against China.

ENG: Earps; Greenwood, Bright, Carter; Daly, Walsh, Stanway, Bronze; James; Hemp, Russo

NGA: Nnadozie; Plumptre, Demean, Ohale, Alozie; Ayinde, Ucheibe; Ajibade, Payne, Kanu; Onumonu

A sluggish start to this round-of-sixteen saw both sides struggle to create chances throughout the opening stages, though it was the Super Falcons that first found space to shoot after fifteen minutes. The Lionesses had failed to adequately clear a cross arriving from the right flank, leaving Ashleigh Plumptre with acres of space to rifle an effort towards goal – and despite having Mary Earps beaten, the ex-Leicester City defender’s strike ricocheted off the crossbar!

England would have chances too throughout the opening half-hour, with Alessia Russo pouncing on Oluwatosin Demehin’s poor attempt as a pass to dash through on goal and force a fine save from Chiamaka Nnadozie. The Lionesses put the ‘keeper to work again soon after, as Alex Greenwood’s corner delivery was volleyed towards goal by Rachel Daly – yet once more, Nnadozie dealt with the danger well.

It looked as though Sarina Wiegman’s side would be granted an opportunity to take the lead from the penalty spot as Rachel Daly fell to the ground under pressure from Rasheedat Ajibade, though a lengthy VAR appeal overturned the referee’s initial decision – and the Lionesses would be forced to continue their search for the all-important opener.

With England’s mounting pressure seemingly bound to breach the Nigerian defences sooner or later, the Super Falcons probed at the other end of the pitch – with Rasheedat Ajibade and Christy Ucheibe denied by Millie Bright and Jess Carter, as the half-time interval continued to draw ever closer.

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They started the second half as the brighter of the two sides too, with Rasheedat Ajidbade involved once more as yet another Nigerian attack culminated in a thumping effort against the woodwork – with her cross nodded against the crossbar by Uchenna Kanu.

Yet on the hour mark, another chance fell beautifully for England – but Rachel Daly’s volleyed effort from Georgia Stanway’s cross failed to trouble Chiamaka Nnadozie, sailing out uncontested for a goal kick.

Fifteen minutes later, Chiamaka Nnadozie was forced to prove her worth once again though, as Rachel Daly leapt highest inside the penalty area to divert Alex Greenwood’s corner towards goal. The ‘keeper did exceptionally well to get down to her right, palming the effort away to ensure her side remained level.

With the match seemingly destined for extra time, Lauren James was shown a straight red card for a petulant stamp on Michelle Alozie. While getting back onto her feet from a challenge, the Chelsea star opted to dig her studs into the Nigerian’s back – and the referee’s initial yellow card was quickly upgraded to a red following a VAR review.

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Extra time did in fact roll around swiftly, with Nigeria appealing for a penalty just seconds into the additional thirty minutes after they felt Lucy Bronze had fouled Michelle Alozie. Unimpressed with their calls, the referee dismissed the protests to allow play to continue.

The right-back had certainly been a thorn in the side of the Lionesses, and she squandered a colossal chance for the Super Falcons to take the lead merely minutes later – nestling her effort into the side netting from a tight angle, after Millie Bright had failed to deal with a diagonal ball that split the English defence.

Ultimately though, neither side were able to find a breakthrough in extra time – ensuring we’d see the second penalty shootout in two days at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup. The United States had been painfully eliminated by Sweden less than 24 hours prior to this match, and the Lionesses would be keen to ensure they did not suffer the same fate.

They certainly didn’t get off to the best start in the penalty shootout, as Georgia Stanway blasted her effort wide of the left post – though her blushes were spared as Désiré Oparanozie suffered the same fate, ensuring the scores remained at 0-0.

The Lionesses fired themselves into the lead with their second effort though, as Bethany England left Chiamaka Nnadozie with no chance of making the save as she nestled her strike perfectly into the top-right corner. Michelle Alozie blasted hers over the woodwork, ensuring the advantage was England’s – and it’s not often we can say that in a shootout scenario!

Rachel Daly opted for the opposite top corner when she stepped up to take England’s third penalty, momentarily doubling the Lionesses’ lead – until Rasheedat Ajibade found the back of the net too, bringing the scoreline to 2-1.

Alex Greenwood remained composed with the fourth effort though, sending Chiamaka Nnadozie the wrong way as she slotted a cool effort into the bottom-right corner. Christy Ucheibe did well to keep Nigeria in contention though, meaning the pressure fell firmly onto Chloe Kelly’s shoulders.

Score to win. The magnitude of the occasion simply couldn’t be understated – but Chloe Kelly didn’t care, rifling a thunderous effort towards the top-left corner. Chiamaka Nnadozie managed to get a hand to it, but the sheer power of the Manchester City forward’s strike ensured the ball flew over the line, sealing England’s participation in the quarterfinals.

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Emotional scenes followed, with Chloe Kelly, Alex Greenwood and Hannah Hampton quick to console Chiamaka Nnadozie – who has been one of the breakout stars of the tournament between the sticks for the Super Falcons.

England do not yet know their next opponents, as Colombia will face Jamaica on August 8. Regardless, the Lionesses will need to produce a much-improved performance if they’re to reach the semifinals of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup – where they would meet either Australia, France or Morocco.