African champions, Nigeria fought valiantly but eventually lost by the odd goal to host nation France in Rennes yesterday as the curtain was drawn on Group A of the Eighth FIFA Women's World Cup finals. It was a similar result when both teams last met at the World Cup - in Germany eight years ago.
Centre -back Wendy Renard drove the ball past goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie at the second time of trying in the 78th minute of a well -attended encounter at the 28,000 -capacity Roazhon Park. Renard bundled the first kick against the upright but Nnadozie was adjudged to have moved both feet off the goal-line before the kick (contravention of a new rule), and was penalized.
After a listless first half that produced no shot on goal from either side, the French came into the second period with greater urgency, but still could not find a way past a determined rearguard of Onome Ebi, Osinachi Ohale, Chidinma Okeke, Ngozi Ebere and Nnadozie.
Eventually, it was Ebere whose awakward touch on an advancing Asseyi got France the penalty that separated both teams and earned the host nation the maximum nine points from their three group games for the first time in their history of participation in the World Cup.
With only three points from their three matches and a two-goal deficit, the Falcons' progress to the knockout rounds for the first time in 20 years will be sealed if Argentina are unable to accomplish a handsome win over Scotland in their final Group D game on Thursday, or Cameroon are unable to defeat New Zealand by more than one goal in their final Group E duel on Friday.
China, with four points in Group B, and Australia, with three points already from two matches in Group C, look already good enough for the Round of 16. With the USA and Sweden packing all the points in Group F, third -placed Chile is still pointless and must defeat Thailand by more than three goals to get in the way of Nigeria. The four best third -placed teams in the six groups will join the two top -placed teams in each group to the Round of 16.