A below-par England survived 120 minutes of Nigeria dominance to reach the World Cup quarter-finals, winning 4-2 on penalties after a goalless draw, despite Lauren James’ petulant red card.
It was another game where the lesser-deserving team made it into the last eight on penalties, almost a carbon copy of the USA’s exit to Sweden.
After the delight of seeing Keira Walsh return to the XI following her knee injury, Sarina Wiegman stuck with a 3-5-2 that did so well against China. However, England reverted back to the laboured performances of the opening two group games, as Nigeria registered 20 shots to England’s 12.
The game got worse for them too as James (87) was sent off late in normal time after a frustrated and avoidable stamp on the back of Michelle Alozie.
Lauren James of England stamps on Michelle Alozie to earn a red card
It was reminiscent of David Beckham and Wayne Rooney at the 1998 and 2006 World Cups respectively – the young star lashing out and being penalised. She will now miss the quarter-final, and perhaps more if FIFA decides to punish her further.
But somehow, England rode the wave of Nigeria pressure to take the game all the way to penalties. The shootout began with a Georgia Stanway miss, but this was followed by two further misses from the Super Falcons to hand the Lionesses control.
England did not let the advantage slip either, scoring the remainder of their spot kicks – the decisive penalty taken by Euro 2022 winning goalscorer Chloe Kelly – and booking a quarter-final spot, where they will face either Jamaica or Colombia.
It was a feverish first half in Brisbane in which Nigeria were the better side from the start. Alozie’s bullet header was met by an equally-powerful headed clearance from Alessia Russo. Former Leicester defender Ashleigh Plumptre then hit the crossbar with a superb hit, before her follow-up effort was pushed away by Mary Earps.
hloe Kelly celebrates with team-mates after scoring her team’s fifth and winning penalty
England’s first shot arrived in the 23rd minute as Russo took advantage of a Nigeria error, but her low shot was well-saved by Chiamaka Nnadozie. Rachel Daly’s half volley from a fine Alex Greenwood corner was also palmed away by the Nigeria goalkeeper.
But there was drama to come as England were awarded a penalty on the half hour. Rasheedat Ajibade was penalised for pulling Daly to the floor during a tussle inside the area, with the referee immediately pointing to the spot.
She was surrounded by Nigeria players pleading their case as Georgia Stanway lined up the spot kick. Then, the referee went over to the screen to review the decision before overturning the penalty.
Two minutes after the break, Nigeria hit the bar for a second time. Ajibade played in a fine cross from the left, with Uchenna Kanu nodding the effort onto the woodwork. The Super Falcons continued to dominate the play and chances, with Kanu nodding wide from a corner later in the half.
England toiled but should have taken the lead in the 75th minute when Daly sent a powerful, free header goalwards, but an incredible reaction save from Nnadozie kept her at bay again.
Chloe Kely and Alex Greenwood celebrate England’s penalty shootout win over Nigeria in the Women’s World Cup last 16Things went from bad to worse for the Lionesses when James was sent off. She tussled with Alozie and as the two went to stand up, James stamped on her lower back. After initially receiving a yellow card, it was rightly bumped up to a straight red after the referee once again consulted the pitchside monitor.
England were lucky to force extra-time, but did not improve in the additional 30 minutes. Although both teams began to tire, Nigeria continued to see the better of the play. Alozie sent an effort rifling into the side of the net before Asisat Oshoala fired a snapshot effort straight at Earps, as the tie eventually went to penalties.
It looked like things would not go England’s way once more as regular penalty taker Stanway fired the first spot kick well wide. But Nigeria missed their next two penalties – sandwiched between Bethany England’s fine effort – to hand the Lionesses their first advantage of the game.
They did not let it slip either. Rachel Daly, Alex Greenwood and finally Kelly all found the net, firing England into the last eight.