|Nigeria’s goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie saves a penalty from Canada’s Christine Sinclair / © AFP|
Christine Sinclair had a penalty saved as Olympic champions Canada were held 0-0 in their opener by Nigeria, who saw Deborah Abiodun pick up the first red card of this Women’s World Cup.
The 40-year-old skipper Sinclair is hoping to make history in Australia and New Zealand by becoming the first player to score at six World Cups.
But she missed the chance to reach that milestone in Melbourne as her penalty early in the second half was saved by goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie.
With few clear chances otherwise, that allowed the Super Falcons to come away with a morale-boosting draw in Group B, in which co-hosts Australia beat Ireland 1-0 on Thursday.
Canada have never gone beyond the semi-finals of the Women’s World Cup but are hoping to go deep into this year’s tournament on the back of winning gold at the Tokyo Games in 2021.
However, they had a disrupted build-up as the team threatened to strike over pay, funding and contractual issues.
They are also missing key players due to injury and perhaps continue to rely too heavily on Sinclair, the all-time top scorer in international football.
Nigeria are appearing at their ninth World Cup but were themselves embroiled in controversy in the build-up as the team clashed with their national federation over bonuses.
They had even threatened to boycott their opening game, but Randy Waldrum’s team produced a spirited performance that gives them hope of matching their run to the last 16 four years ago in France.
Star striker Asisat Oshoala was unable to shine but the Nigerian defence gave away little against the attack of the team ranked seventh in the world.
The key moment came shortly after half-time, when a spot-kick was awarded following a VAR check for a foul by Francisca Ordega on Sinclair.
Sinclair dusted herself down to take the penalty but her kick was poor and Nnadozie was able to make the save.
Abiodun was dismissed deep in stoppage time at the end of the game after another VAR review, a yellow card being upgraded to red.
Replays showed her catching Ashley Lawrence with her studs above the ankle in a nasty challenge.