Nigeria storm back to draw Sweden in high-flying Group of Death thriller

Sweden and Nigeria shared six goals in a thrilling, 3-3 Group D opener which launched the Women’s World Cup "Group of Death" at Winnipeg Stadium Monday afternoon with a classic battle.

Goals from Nilla Fischer and Linda Sembrant plus an own-goal from Desire Oparanozie provided Sweden with two leads against a Nigerian team that was always dangerous on the attack. Ngozi Okobi and Asisat Oshoala scored two early second half goals, then Francisca Ordega tallied with three minutes left to get Nigeria a deserved share of the points in a terrific contest.

"We’re not happy that we gave up three goals, however, at the end of the day we got one point and there’s good things to bring to the next game." Sweden manager Pia Sundhage said on FIFA’s official website. "The game plan was different than what you saw. Again, we got one point and next time, when we play the States, I hope we will follow the game plan."

Therese Sjogran set up both first half Swedish goals with corners from the left. The Swedes were packing players close to the goal line against a shaky set-piece defense and making it difficult for Nigerian keeper Precious Dede to get a look at the balls flighted toward her near post.

In the 20th minute, Sjogran’s delivery was head-ficked on by Fischer, the ball striking Oparanozie five yards off the line and deflecting home for an own goal. Eleven minutes later it was the veteran Fischer’s turn to profit when the Nigerians failed to deal with another Sjogran feed. Ebere headed the first scoring chance off her goal line but only as far as the top of the box where the ball was played back in through a tattered defense. Fischer was alone to tap in Sweden’s second.

The best Nigerian first half chance fell to the speedy Oshoala in the 25th minute but she pulled her shot across the face of goal and past the far left post after she broke down the right. In the final minute before the interval Oparanozie was beaten by Fischer’s slide tackle six yards from goal before she could test Sweden keeper Hedvig Lindahl.

Those were the clear signs that Sweden would be troubled if the Nigerians sharpened their approach work and it took just eight minutes of the second half for that to be proved correct.

Lindahl could do nothing about Okobi’s 50th-minute strike as the Nigerian forward turned on passes from Oshoala and Oparanozie to pick the left corner from the center of the penalty area as the Swedish defense was cut wide open. It was the 20-year-old Oshoala who then stormed clear behind Fischer on the left and leveled matters three minutes later as the Nigerians used their emerging star’s speed to leave the Swedes chasing shadows.

It was Nigeria’s turn to be caught out on the hour, however, when Lina Nilsson made a strong run from her left back position, getting to the byeline before cutting the ball across the face of goal. Substitute Linda Sembrant managed to deflect it into the open net as the Swedes regained the advantage.

It probably should have been all even in the 69th minute when Lindahl could not hold a cross, then Emma Berglund swept the ball away from Oshoala, who was closing at the far post but could not direct her sliding attempt onto the target.

The Swedes then pushed Fischer from the backline into a defensive midfield role for the final 20 minutes and did a better job of maintaining possession to make it more difficult for Nigeria to launch its devastating counters. But the Nigerians had one more telling counter, Ordega sent in by a perfect pass from Okobi to leave Lindahl at the mercy of the scorer.

"I feel OK after our first match," Nigeria manager Edwin Okon told FIFA’s offiicial website after the draw. "They expected to win, and at the end of the day we got a draw. Prayer is a key for the Nigerian team. We praise God. That is the key. I thought in the first half we were the stronger team."