England beats Nigeria despite a red card, and Australia advances as Sam Kerr returns
If you didn't catch the games overnight at the Women's World Cup, you missed two great Australia goals and a dramatic match between England and Nigeria.
The field is winnowing rapidly and the quarterfinal bracket is nearly set. The U.S. won't be a part of it, having lost to Sweden in penalty kicks on Sunday. The Americans are headed home, their earliest exit from a Women's World Cup.
England beats Nigeria in penalty kicks
England and Nigeria played a tight and tense match in Brisbane, Australia, as neither team was able to put through a goal despite chances and England played with 10 women after a red card late in the second half.
Nigeria, ranked 40th in the world, managed to hold England, ranked 4th, scoreless through extra time, and despite the return of England's Keira Walsh, who had sustained a knee injury and was taken off in a stretcher earlier in the tournament.
In the 85th minute, Nigeria's Michelle Alozie challenged England's Lauren James for the ball, and both ended up sprawled on the pitch. As James got up, she stepped onto Alozie's back. James, 21, was initially given a yellow card, but referees reviewed video of the incident and upgraded the penalty to a red. James will miss at least England's next match, and could possibly face further sanctions from FIFA.
With James sent off the pitch, England thus played the rest of regulation down a player — as well as an additional 30-plus minutes of extra time, as both teams failed to score.
The game went on to penalty kicks, which began with England's Georgia Stanway missing her shot. Then Nigeria's Desire Oparanozie and Alozie both missed while England sunk four, clinching the Lionesses' berth in the quarterfinals.
Some in the British media compared James' stamping of Alozie to an infamous moment during the 1998 World Cup round of 16, when David Beckham was facedown on the pitch and kicked a leg out at Argentina's Diego Simeone, resulting in a red card for Beckham. England would go on to lose the match on penalties, and Beckham was roundly criticized.
Or there's the quarterfinal in the 2006 World Cup when England's Wayne Rooney and Portugal's Ricardo Carvalho tangled on the ground. Rooney appeared to put a foot in Carvalho's groin, though the referee did not seem to react. He did, however, show Rooney a red card after the England player shoved Carvalho's Portugal teammate, Cristiano Ronaldo, who had joined in protests to the official. Ronaldo was seen appearing to wink at the Portuguese coaches and bench after the red card was given. Portugal won the match on penalties, eliminating England.
After the England-Nigeria match, Alozie said she had "no hard feelings" toward James. "It's just a game."
Australia advances and Sam Kerr plays her first World Cup minutes
Despite early pressure from Denmark, Australia captured a 2-0 win over Denmark to advance to the quarterfinals. In the 29th minute, Caitlin Foord raced down the left side and scored with a deft left-footer. Hayley Raso powered in a second goal in the 70th minute to put the Matildas solidly ahead.
Australia had everything it needed to win. And then it had a bonus, in the 80th minute: Striker Sam Kerr, its biggest star, came in off the bench to enormous cheers in front of a home crowd in Sydney, replacing Raso. Kerr had injured her calf on the eve of the World Cup. She had been expected to be the face of the tournament, but instead had sat out for weeks.
It looked to be the cherry on top of a solid Australia win – then Kerr fell. As she lay on the pitch, Australia coach Tony Gustavsson worried he had made the wrong call by putting her in. Then Kerr got back up, apparently fine, the crowd cheering again in relief.
"It's massive for us to have a player like that back, it boosts our confidence," said Foord, Reuters reported.
"We know we need to take it up another level if we're going to go all the way."
Could this be Australia's year? They'll meet either France or Morocco in the quarterfinals.
Here's what's next
Next up in the Round of 16:
The quarterfinals kick off later this week.
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