WINNIPEG, Manitoba – The most consistent thing about Monday’s match between Nigeria and Sweden was the droning but distinct sound of a trumpet played by one of the few-dozen Nigeria fans in a corner of Winnipeg Stadium.
Otherwise, it was a wild and entertaining 3-3 draw to kick off play in Group D of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Sweden led 2-0 at halftime and led again 3-2 late, but eh No. 5-ranked team in the world couldn’t hold off the African champions. Sweden coach Pia Sundhage said she was happy to take a point, but acknowledged that her team did not execute according to plan, specifically citing midfield issues.
“I’ll tell you this: The gameplan was different from what you saw,” Sundhage said. “But I do understand that for some players, it’s their first tournament and the game is very special.
“I saw another game in front of me,” she continued.
The road only gets harder for Sweden, with a match against the No. 2 United States – the team Sundhage coached to two Olympic gold medals and a World Cup final – looming on Friday.
Head coach Edwin Okon called Sweden’s two goals “cheap,” citing mistakes by his own team.
Francisca Ordega scored the late equalizer for Nigeria, nutmegging Sweden goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl in the 87th minute. Ngozi Okobi’s perfectly-weighted through ball sliced right through the center of Sweden’s stretched defense, finding Ordega in stride to give Nigeria a crucial point in what is considered the tournament’s toughest group.
Sweden substitute Linda Sembrant had put her team ahead three minutes after checking into the match, in the 60th minute. Fellow substitute Olivia Schough helped ignite a sharp combination of passes for Sweden, finding forward Lotta Schelin, who back-heeled the ball toward the endline for an overlapping Lina Nilsson. The defender’s cross made enough contact with Sembrant’s stomach to deflect into the net.
The Super Falcons impressed through the run of play but looked out of their depths on set pieces in the first half.
Nigeria goalkeeper Precious Dede was caught out of position on Sweden’s opening goal in the 21st minute, a Therese Sjogran corner kick that bounced off the chest of Nigeria forward Desire Oparanozie and into the net. Ten minutes later, Sjogran again proved provider, finding a teammate at the back post and Nilla Fischer eventually tapped the ball in for a 2-0 lead.
Okobi began the Nigeria comeback five minutes after the break, beating 31-year-old center back Fischer to a low cross inside the 18-yard-box and burying her shot past Hedvig Lindahl. Three minutes later, Fischer’s pocket was picked by 20-year-old wunderkind Asisat Oshoala, who was poised while slotting the ball past Lindahl and holding off a desperately recovering Fischer.
Oshoala’s equalizer brought Okon and his staff, as well as several players, to their knees to pray.
“At the end of the day, we thank God for the goals,” Okon said after the match.
Okobi, who was named player of the match, said her goal was not her doing, “but the power of God.”
Nigeria looked like it would be left empty-handed for after a Oshoala missed an empty net in the 69th minute. But Ordega’s equalizer gets Nigeria a point ahead of Friday’s second match against Australia. Sweden will next play Friday against the United States.
“We got one point and next time, when we play the States, I hope that we will follow the gameplan,” Sundhage said.