Partnership between Oshoala and Ajibade Lifts Nigeria to Upset over Australia

AP Photo/Tertius Pickard
Nigeria’s Onome Ebi, left, and Nigeria’s Osinachi Ohale celebrate at the end of the Women’s World Cup Group B soccer match between Australia and Nigeria In Brisbane, Australia, Thursday, July 27, 2023. Ohale scored once and Nigeria won 3-2.

BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — With the match tied at 1-1 in the second half, few would’ve blamed Nigeria coach Randy Waldrum for bringing in defensive reinforcements against Women’s World Cup co-host Australia.

Instead, Waldrum went all in Thursday. He sent on striker Asisat Oshoala to combine with midfielder Rasheedat Ajibade and push for an upset win. Two fine individual players, they’re even better as a team.

Oshoala’s entrance in the 63rd minute, reuniting a playmaking duo that hadn’t yet played together in this tournament, helped Nigeria to 3-1 lead within nine minutes. And they hung on for a 3-2 win.

Ajibade and Oshoala “are needed on the team, and I think they showed that tonight,” said Uchenna Kanu, who scored Nigeria’s opening goal late in first-half stoppage time. “Asisat coming on and doing what she knows how to do was really cool.”

The three goals it scored equaled Nigeria’s highest scoring output in its World Cup history.

After arriving at the World Cup with concerns over the squad’s preparations, Nigeria is unbeaten against two Top 10 teams and shares the Group B lead on four points with Olympic champion Canada.

Barcelona forward Oshoala started in last week’s opening 0-0 draw against Canada, but struggled in the aftermath with a hamstring injury. Atletico Madrid midfielder Ajibade missed the Canada game due to a red card she received in the 2022 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations semifinals.

So, in a masterstroke of tactical roster management, Waldrum decided to keep Oshoala out of the starting 11 against Australia and recall Ajibade to give the team some direction in the first half.

When it mattered most, he ensured they were on the field together.

The relationship between Oshoala and Ajibade is one that dates back to their time as youth players.

We grew up together at the same grassroots team, Oshoala said after the match. “She’s my sister.”

Ajibade and Oshoala played together at FC Robo. The chemistry the two built there has continued now to soccer’s biggest stage.

It’s all about the communication and understanding each other, Ajibade said. “We do it in training, so we have to do it in the games.”

Waldrum acknowledged that the chemistry extended beyond these two to the entire squad.

The team chemistry has been really strong now and they’re really fighting for each other, Waldrum said. “They’re not concerned with who gets the glory or who gets the goal. They just battle for each other.”

Nigeria faces winless Ireland in its last game of Group B next Monday. A win or draw would see the Super Falcons advancing to the knockout stage.

We’ve come in here and gotten two results out of two top teams in the world, Waldrum said. “It says a lot to not only our ability but to just the heart and the competitive desire that the team has.”