WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- Sweden and Nigeria opened play in Group D on Monday, and combined to deliver a 3-3 draw in a wild encounter at the Winnipeg Stadium.
Sweden broke on top through a pair of set-piece goals, and was up 2-0 at halftime. But the pace of Nigeria's forwards proved a danger throughout, and two goals three minutes apart from Ngozi Okobi and Asisat Oshoala briefly brought the Super Falcons level.
Substitute Linda Sembrant put Sweden back on top in the 60th minute, but Nigeria had the last word, with Okobi setting up Francisca Ordega to fire home in the 87th minute, giving the Super Falcons a deserved draw.
1. Oshoala lives up to hype, but Okobi steals show
Oshoala came into the tournament highly regarded after first impressing at the 2014 U20 Women's World Cup, and later with the Super Falcons at the 2014 Africa Women's Championship. Monday, Oshoala largely lived up to the hype, and was a consistent threat along with fellow forward Desire Oparanozie.
But while Oshoala threatened repeatedly in the first half, the final touch proved elusive. She picked the pocket of Sweden left back Lina Nilsson in the 18th minute and embarked on a long run only to see her shot go narrowly wide. Oshoala also was unable to make the final pass count as she failed to deliver in the final third.
Okobi continually pushed up to join the attack to help Oshoala and Oparanozie get Nigeria back in the game. Okobi scored in the 49th minute, beating Nilla Fischer on the turn after being set up by Oparanozie. Okobi then released Oshoala on a clear breakaway three minutes later and the Nigerian forward finally provided the finish she was looking for to level the score.
After Sweden reclaimed the lead through Sembrant, it looked like Nigeria's effort would fall just short, especially after Oshoala couldn't redirect an attempted clearance from Emma Berglund on goal. But Nigeria got the equalizer it so richly deserved, and it was Okobi once again at the heart of things. Okobi released Ordega on a breakaway and she slotted home her shot to bring Nigeria level once again.
How unlikely was Nigeria's comeback? There were more goals in this game for the Super Falcons than their previous nine Women's World Cup games combined. Nigeria is also the fifth team to get at least at point after trailing by two goals in a WWC game.
That said, Nigeria had some history on its side. Back in 2007, Nigeria equalized in the 82nd minute in a 1-1 draw to Sweden in the group stage.
2. Midfield worries for Sweden, even as subs come through
At halftime Sweden looked to be cruising. An own goal from Oparanozie and a close-range finish from Fischer put the Swedes up 2-0, and while Nigeria looked threatening, Sweden looked to be managing OK. But Sweden's midfield seemed to wilt after halftime, making some highly suspect decisions with the ball, and that helped Nigeria get back into the game.
That Sweden would manage the game so poorly was stunning given the depth of experience it has. But this Sweden side isn't terribly mobile, and the other teams in Group D -- the United States and Australia, which both possess a lot of speed -- will no doubt take note.
When Sweden manager Pia Sundhage brought on Sembrant in the 57th minute, it seemed a case of waiting too long to make a substitution. But Sembrant came through, redirecting a short pass from Nilsson to put the Swedes back on top. Sembrant's goal was no Rembrandt, putting the cross in off her thigh, but it got the job done just the same.
But Sweden couldn't hang on, with an injury to center back Emma Berglund after a courageous goal-line clearance hurting the Swedish cause.
And concerns spread to the back line, too. Despite scoring Sweden's second goal, Fischer had a subpar performance and played a part in all three of Nigeria's goals.
The draw complicates matters somewhat for Sweden, though it should still progress to the second round. But an emotional match against the United States looms, as Sundhage is set to face a U.S. team that she coached for seven years, a period that saw her lead the Americans to two Olympic gold medals and a runner-up finish at the 2011 World Cup. Sundhage has largely stayed away from comparisons about her former team, but the topic will no doubt come up in the days ahead.
3. Where would Nigeria be if it had better goalkeeping?
The aerial ability of the game's two goalkeepers was evident from the outset. Sweden's Hedvig Lindahl was secure in her handling and judgment of crosses, and completely dominated her area. At the other end, Nigeria counterpart Precious Dede showed her vulnerability whenever the ball was in the air.
The first warning sign for Dede came in the 14th minute when she didn't come close to claiming a cross. The resulting shot was looped wide, but Sweden took note, looking to create traffic in front of Dede on every attacking set piece opportunity. That approach ended up paying off in the 20th minute. Dede seemed hell-bent on coming out for Therese Sjogran's corner, failed to make any contact with the ball, and could only watch as Fischer's header deflected off Oparanozie for an own goal.
Nigeria's misery was compounded 11 minutes later on yet another set piece. Another Sjogran corner was headed toward goal but cleared off the line by Ngozi Ebere. The ball was fired back in by Sweden's Lisa Dahlkvist, and Fischer got the final touch from closer range to make it 2-0.
On a day when Nigeria was dynamic in attack, the play of Dede proved costly.