Nigeria got their Women’s World Cup Group B campaign off to a solid start with a 0-0 draw against Olympic champions Canada in Melbourne, though they had some good fortune after veteran Christine Sinclair missed a penalty for the North American team on Friday.
Nigeria finished the game well and created enough chances to have won the match, and will have a hint of regret themselves that they could not grab the win in what is going to be a Group of Death that also includes co-hosts Australia and Republic of Ireland.
They did finish with 10 players after Deborah Abiodun received a red card deep into injury-time at the end for a wild late lunge that was initially given as a yellow but deservedly upgraded to red by the Video Assistant Referee.
Canada dominated with more than two third of the possession, but Nigeria were resolute in defence, until just after halftime when Sinclair went down in the box under a clumsy tackle from Francisca Ordega.
Finnish referee Lina Lehtovaara initially waved away the penalty claim, but after a review by the VAR, reversed her decision.
The 40-year-old Sinclair, such a talismanic figure for the Canadians for over two decades and in her 324th international, provided a weak spot-kick that was saved by Super Falcons keeper Chiamaka Nnadozie.
Sinclair therefore spurned the opportunity to be the first person ever to score at six World Cups and add to her 190 international goals.
Nigeria will be concerned about their star player Asisat Oshoala, who repeatedly needed treatment through the game but did last to injury-time at the end when she was finally replaced. She did not look at full fitness though.
She had an excellent chance to put Nigeria ahead in the first half but saw her effort blocked, even if the angle was quite tight.
The Super Falcons’ plan was clear, absorb the pressure and look to hit Canada on the break with their pace, and it almost worked on several occasions.
But Nnadozie was the hero of the day for the Nigeria as she made several super stops, not least from Evelyne Viens midway through the second half.
The 22-year-old keeper looked mostly assured and was an easy pick for player of the match.
It is a solid start to the campaign for Nigeria and Africa, Canada were always going to be a tough opponent and defeat in a difficult group would have made progression extremely difficult with only the top two advancing from the pool.
Nigeria are next in action on Thursday when they take on Australia in a crunch game.