The road to this World Cup for Canada’s women has not gone as smoothly as the squad would have hoped. Arguments about resources and personnel and financial backing. An important player who was injured. Apparently no one bothered to practise for the match. The people of Nigeria, who are in the midst of a heated salary dispute, would certainly agree.
Both squads said they were putting distractions like that behind them this week since the games were finally here. Asisat Oshoala, a Nigerian striker for Barcelona, recently remarked, “Forget about the distractions, and just focus on the game.” The opening phase of the competition, a scoreless draw on Friday in Melbourne, will leave neither team totally happy, which may be appropriate or at least not unexpected.
After football legend Christine Sinclair missed a second-half penalty kick, Canada left the pitch thinking it could have and maybe should have won. The loss of midfielder Deborah Ajibola Abiodun late in the second half for a foul that was escalated to red from yellow following a video review will leave Nigeria wondering how it can adjust. Nigeria had 16 fouls but just one shot on goal.
The moods of the players immediately after the final whistle hinted at diverse ways of taking the news. Chiamaka Nnadozie, the custodian for Nigeria, went to her knees after saving the penalty, perhaps in celebration of a historic win. Only the second time in six World Cups that Sinclair had been taken off for a substitution, she sat glumly on the bench as Canada Coach Bev Priestman tried, maybe in vain, to cheer her up.
I’m confident the fans, the squad, and everyone can forgive Christine Sinclair missing a penalty kick, as Priestman put it: “Christine Sinclair has scored many, many goals for this country.”
Australia seemed to be about the only victor on Friday. After a Thursday win over Ireland and a tie between Canada and Nigeria, they now sit atop Group B. That will be reassuring given the confidence issues it’s having since Sam Kerr left. This time, at least.