Late goals are always dramatic, no matter what level of the game they are scored in. In the last seconds of the final match to be played in Dinan-Lehon at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup France 2018, Nigeria turned the improbable into triumphant reality, even though the goal in question was an equaliser.
Trailing 1-0 deep into second-half stoppage time, the Super Falconets were facing elimination at the group stage of the competition, with China PR in the driver’s seat to join Germany in the quarter-finals from Group D. Needing to only draw level and advance to the last eight ahead of the Asians on goal difference, a moment of inspiration was required from the West African side.
Though it was credited as an own goal to China right-back Jiaxing Dou, the efforts of substitute Aishat Bello and captain Rasheedat Ajibade to manufacture that decisive equaliser is sure to live long in the memories of Nigerian football fans. “It was not easy. I was on the bench and I was thinking that maybe we had lost the game,” Bello told FIFA.com after Monday’s game at the Stade du Clos Gastel. “But I gave myself confidence that we were not going to lose this game and that I have to do my best when I get on to get the result.”
Bello’s efforts proved decisive, as the 17-year-old got in behind the Chinese backline on the right before playing in a well-driven cross towards Ajibade. The Nigeria captain’s challenge for the ball prompted the deflection off of Dou for an own goal. “I was thinking that one of my players was going to be there,” Bello said. “The good thing was my player [Ajibade] was there to finish for me, so I was very, very happy.”
Though it was a tough contest for Christopher Musa’s side against their Asian opponents, Nigeria’s motivation never waivered, full in the knowledge that one goal would change their fortunes. “The match was very important and we wanted to win the match,” said Super Falconets midfielder Peace Efih. “We wanted to make sure we went through, that’s why we fought to the end. In the second half, we just had to push and keep the spirit of the team moving. It’s all about winning, it’s all about fighting to the end.”
With that level of desire, Nigeria head into their next challenge in Concarneau on Thursday, as they meet Spain in the quarter-finals. “The quarter-finals won’t be easy, but we will fight to the finish,” Efih said. “We believe in putting out our best every time. With our togetherness, we believe we will get somewhere.”