How far can Nigeria go in the World Cup?
Background Image: Jpeepz, CC by-NC 2.0
The Women's World Cup is here and the Nigerian women have a message for the traditional powers in the game. Look out for the Super Falcons. While the team has found it difficult to translate their continental success to a global stage, they hope to finally break through in France.
Women's football is growing in appeal among fans. It's yet to approach the men's status but the match quality improves and exposure widens with each passing year. The United States is the top team, having won the World Cup three times. France, Germany, Norway and Sweden are European powers with England and the Netherlands on the rise. China and Japan make Asia a force as well, with Australia coming into their own too. That said, no African team has gone beyond the quarterfinals. Only one has ever made it to the knockout phase.
Nigeria believes they can do better. The Super Falcons have won 11 of the 13 African Women Cup of Nations in which they featured, winning the last three. They have managed to keep their place at the summit of African football for more than a decade.
While names such as Perpetua Nkwocha and Florence Omagbemi made the rounds in years gone by, now we see players like Barcelona's Asisat Oshoala and Francisca Ordega making waves. It's a wonder how they continue to thrive, especially considering the lack of support shown by the Nigeria Football Federation. Payment of bonuses remain an issue among others. The Super Falcons refused to bring home the 2016 AWCON trophy unless their wages were paid. It is disgraceful things like these that halt progress throughout the continent.
Poor facilities, poor officiating and poor turnout hold African teams back, Nigeria included. That said, the Super Falcons possess the quality to make the semifinals, at the least.
Nigeria is the one African team to reach the knockout stages but haven't been lucky in their group draws. Last time, the Nigerians were drawn alongside eventual champions, United States, Australia and Sweden. They managed a solitary point before crashing out bottom of the group. In 2011, it was Germany and France who qualified from their group.
This year, they are drawn with France, South Korea and Norway. With the top two sides plus the best four third-place sides advancing from the six groups, their prospects are good despite having to face the 1995 champions and the host nation. Defeating South Korea while earning a point against either France or Norway could see them through.
Thomas Dennerby leads Nigeria in his first World Cup since he was appointed coach in 2018. Not inexperienced, he took his native country to a pair of World Cups previously. The Swede largely maintained the status quo when choosing his squad. The group still contains a healthy mix of local and foreign-based talents. Seven players from the local league made the cut, a fair number if you consider the gulf between the African and European leagues.
Keep an eye on Asisat Oshoala, who plays her club football with Barcelona. The 24-year-old forward has grown in leaps and bounds since she announced herself on the world stage at the 2014 U-20 World Cup. The three-time African Women's Footballer of the Year is a real handful up front. Hopefully, she doesn't leave her scoring boots at home this time.
Nigeria has to play to their strengths at the World Cup. Technically, they aren't at the elite level but, when it comes to the physical side of the game, they can be a major force. The Super Falcons let themselves down by abandoning the pattern of play that took them to previous tournaments. This time, they should be themselves. Stick to the long balls. Focus on set plays and corners. Organise themselves better at the back.
Nigeria begins their campaign against Norway today. There is massive belief in this group to deliver. The Super Eagles fumbled in Russia and the nation hopes the Super Falcons outperform them as they usually do and maybe, just maybe, make it to the semis.