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2022 FIFA U20 WWC: Sabastine flourishes as Falconets stun France in opener

Nigeria hands France first group stage defeat since 2008

Nigeria’s Falconets showed up to the U20 Women’s World Cup in style as they edged France 1-0 in their Group C opener to claim a first-ever win over the French at U20 level.

Facing a team made up mostly of Olympique Lyonnais and Paris Saint-Germain players, Falconets coach Chris Danjuma opted to play a fluid 4-4-2 with the team’s top scorer in qualifying Flourish Sabastine part of the two-woman strike force.

The Falconets started the match very well, exhibiting a level of technical ability that overwhelmed their French opponents as they dominated possession and passed the ball around with ease. Midfield maestra Esther Onyenezide had a lot to do with her tidy touches and intelligent pass selection.

Twenty minutes into the first half, the match was suspended due to a heavy downpour that overwhelmed the pitch’s drainage system and left pools of water standing on the pitch. One hour later, the teams were back out for the continuation of the match.

France turned on the heat after the resumption of the first half and they controlled the match, leaving the Falconets praying for the half-time whistle.

The Nigerian team emerged for the second half re-energized and continued to pile on the pressure in San Jose, but their French opponents proved to be equal to the task. They came close to scoring after brilliant play down the left by Rofiat Imuran set up the 17-year-old Sabastine, who had the awareness to square the ball to her strike partner Mercy Idoko. Idoko showed great composure to leave two French defenders on their behinds before firing a shot which was saved by the foot of goalkeeper Marie Petiteau.

It was a warning sign for the French and they responded accordingly, with Esther Mbakem-Niaro forcing the Falconets goalkeeper into a save from distance with a rasping drive.

With 10 minutes left in the match, France thought they had taken the lead after substitute Jade Nassi fired home from close range following a corner. A VAR review saw the goal chalked off as goalkeeper Omini Oyono had been impeded by France’s Alice Sombath as she tried to claim the corner.

Five minutes after surviving thanks to a VAR check, the lively Sabastine struck a dagger through the hearts of the French. The 17-year-old was played in by a weighted pass from Idoko and she ran through before slotting a left-footed finish past the sprawling Petiteau to give Nigeria a deserved lead.

The Falconets held on to emerge with the three points from the match and hand France their first group-stage defeat in four editions of the U20 Women’s World Cup.

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