July 5, 2011

Nigeria 1, Canada 0

For Canada, it was lights out as they suffered their third straight defeat in the 2011 World Cup, this time to Nigeria by a 1-0 margin. It was lights out at the stadium for awhile as well, as a power outage stopped the match for a short period of time in the second half. Neither team had entered the match with a chance to advance, so it was pretty much a game for pride.

Christine Sinclair started once again, in spite of a broken nose and wearing a mask. In fact, Canadian coach Carolina Morace used the identical lineup she started for game one against Germany with the exception being the goalkeeper, where she inserted Karina LeBlanc into the lineup today. Likewise, Nigerian coach Ngozi Uche used the same lineup she used against in their opener against France.

A mixup in back nearly cost Nigeria in the opening minute. A Nigerian defender headed the ball almost straight into the air, just a few yards in front of the net. Nigerian keeper Precious Dede didn't really take charge and Sinclair had a chance to get her head on it, but did not make good contact and the ball was eventually cleared.

Nigeria's first good shot came in the 20th minute, as Perpetua Nkwocha threaded a pass through to the right side of the box to Ebere Orji. Orji was able to go one-on-one with LeBlanc, but the Canadian keeper was able to make a kick save. Then, Rita Chikwelu's shot from 24 yards went just wide of the left post.

A little later, Candace Chapman's free kick found Melissa Tancredi in the penalty area, with Tancredi's header directed at the left post. Dede was able to deflect it wide of the net.

Nigeria missed a golden opportunity in the 25th minute, as Stella Mbachu crossed the ball from the right side to the feet of Nkwocha who was just five yards in front of the goal. Nkwocha was somehow not able to get a shot off as the ball appeared to get tangled between her feet with Rhian Wilkinson on her. However, the ball came to Orji who hit a blast off the right post for what should have been a goal if it had been an inch to the left. Canada had dodged a bullet, but were not looking good at this point.

Canada had a good chance in the 32nd minute as Tancredi sent Sinclair in behind the Nigerian defense. Sinclair dribbled to her right around Dede, but it took her too wide. The defense recovered and blocked her shot. A minute later, Tancredi came in on Dede alone, with Dede making a great save, but the play was incorrectly whistled offside in any case.

The left side of Canada's defense was exposed several times. Again in the 43rd minute, Mbachu got to the end line and crossed to Nkwocha who also hit the right post. The game went into halftime scoreless.

Canada offered the first chance of the second half. Sinclair was able to hit a hard shot from 15 yards following a corner kick, but Dede again made the save.

Nigeria got their first good second half chance in the 58th minute, but Desire Oparanozie put her shot over the crossbar.

Then the lights went out...literally...in the 72nd minute. Power was restored approximately 12 minutes later and Nigeria scored almost immediately. A shot by Glory Iroka from 25 yards was blocked by Chapman, but Nkwocha picked up the loose ball behind the Canadian defense and sent it lower left past LeBlanc.

Canada again came close in the 89th minute, as Diana Matheson crossed the ball into the box. Sinclair headed the ball toward the goal, but Dede was able to punch the ball away before two Canadian attacking players could get to it and danger was averted. Sinclair later worked into the box to take a shot from 15 yards, but Dede smartly came out to cut of the angle and made the stop.

Nigeria was able to hold on for the victory and considering they hit the post on two other occasions, a deserved result. Nigeria had achieved some redemption and posted their first World Cup win since 1999.

As for Canada, it was a World Cup that held so much promise and produced so much disappointment. Not much went right for them in Germany and they will likely be heavily criticized in the press for their efforts.

However, one could understand today's performance to some degree, considering the game really meant little. It also must be considered that they put in a solid performance against the host Germans as well. It was the debacle against France which is the match where they truly underperformed. It must almost be remembered that they were placed in the toughest group.

Nigeria finishes in third place in Group A with 3 points. Canada returns home with three losses and thoughts of what might have been.