Asisat Oshoala volleyed into an open goal in the 72nd minute to seal a deserved win for the Africans after Uchenna Kanu cancelled out Emily van Egmond‘s opener on the cusp of half time and Osinachi Ohale nudged Nigeria ahead after the break.
Australia cut the deficit to one goal when Alanna Kennedy nodded home a header in the 10th minute of stoppage time but Nigeria rode out the final seconds to claim one of the finest wins in their history at the global showpiece.
The victory in front of a huge crowd at Lang Park put Nigeria top of Group B level with Canada on four points but ahead on goals scored. The 11-time African champions play eliminated Ireland in their last group match.
The Matildas must beat Olympic champions Canada in the last group match to be assured of making the round 16 at a tournament where they fancied themselves among the chief title threats.
Lacking talismanic striker Sam Kerr and attacking midfielder Mary Fowler due to injury, Australia’s makeshift forward line peppered the Nigeria goal but saw a slew of chances fly wide and over the bar in both halves.
“We had so many chances, it was just one of those nights where we couldn’t get the ball in the back of the net,” Van Egmond said.
“The last 10 minutes showed what we’re about as a team with the never-say-die attitude and we’ll be looking to take that into the next game as it’s a must-win.”
Australia coach Tony Gustavsson brought midfielder Van Egmond into his starting 11, while Nigeria boss Randy Waldrum brought strike threat Oshoala off the bench in the second half.
Both players made a difference but Oshoala’s was decisive as she exploited a communication breakdown between Kennedy and goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold to score Nigeria’s third.
Australia made the early running, with a poor goal kick allowing Katrina Gorry to volley to Caitlin Foord who crossed neatly for Van Egmond to slide in a low shot in the first minute of first half stoppage time.
Australia’s joy was fleeting, though, with Rasheedat Ajibade making the most of a lapse in defence to unleash a furious shot.
The deflection landed at the feet of Kanu who scored from close-range seconds before the interval.
Gorry almost broke the deadlock two minutes after the restart, smashing a loose ball inches over the bar.
But it was Ajibade who made the difference again as she headed the ball towards the far post after a corner, allowing Ohale to force the ball over the line in the 65th minute.
Under pressure, Australia’s defence broke down and Oshoala wrapped up the victory as she threaded a volley into the net from a tight angle to leave the home fans in stunned silence.