England have knocked Nigeria out of the Women’s World Cup in a last-16 penalty shootout, with Chloe Kelly scoring the decisive spot-kick, following a 0-0 draw over 120 nerve-jangling minutes.
Beth England, Rachel Daly and Alex Greenwood also converted in a 4-2 shootout win for the European champions, who had a player sent off in regulation time on Monday.
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“It’s amazing. Anything that’s thrown at this team, we show what we’re capable of,” Kelly told the BBC. “We dig deep as a group, and we believe in our ability.”
England played with 10 women through extra time after forward Lauren James, their top scorer with three goals in the group stage, was sent off in the 87th minute for an ill-tempered stamp on the back of Michelle Alonzi after the two went down in a tangled heap. James will receive at least a one-game suspension.
Nigeria forced Mary Earps to work early, and the England keeper stood tall with a couple of great saves in front of 49,461 fans at Lang Park.
Ashleigh Plumptre launched a rocket from 25 yards out that rang off the underside of the crossbar, then moments later forced Earps to make a diving save with a shot from the centre of the box.
England were awarded a penalty when Daly was pushed from behind in the box by Rasheedat Ajibade, but it was overturned after a VAR review.
The Lionesses did not have a shot on target until the 77th minute when Daly had a great chance with a header off Greenwood’s corner that forced goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie to get down quickly and save.
England sat back in their own half for most of the extra time, and substitute Asisat Oshoala fired a close-range shot minutes before the final whistle that Earps dove to scoop up.
England held on and scraped through on penalties, with keeper Earps named player of the match.
She said the Finalissima shootout win over Brazil in April was a great warm-up.
“I don’t even practise a shootout, to be honest,” Earps said. “It’s a very special moment, a very special pressure cooker.”
England, making their sixth World Cup appearance, are hoping to top their best finish of third in 2015. They were fourth four years ago in France.
The 40th-ranked Super Falcons bow out of their ninth World Cup in the round of 16 for the second consecutive time.
Fourth-ranked England face either Jamaica or Colombia in the quarter-finals in Sydney on Saturday.
“This team is special; we did it in the Euros, we did it in the Finalissima, and we’re here again tonight and doing it,” said Kelly, who scored the winner in the Euro 2022 final against Germany. “And we keep pushing forward. There’s more to come from this special team.”
On her approach to the decisive penalty, she said: “It’s ‘I’m going to score’. That’s how I look at it. Once I win that mental battle, we’re good.”