The fourth and last team out in group A is the African Championships winners Nigeria, queens of the African continent with 11 titles in 13 Championships. The Super Falcons are a strong football force but have found themselves somewhat troubled in tournaments like the World Cup and the Olympic Games, rarely managing to produce results – something that they’re looking to change this time around, as they’ll feature at their eighth World Cup (out of eight!).
Nigeria, going up against France, South Korea and Norway in the group stages, had a tough job qualifying for the World Cup 2019, and were made to work really hard for their spot, as they lost to South Africa in the group stage, which meant that they finished second behind them in the group and gave them a harder route to the final. They made it through but didn’t manage to score a single goal in the semi-final or the final, winning both games on penalties. But they got their revenge on the South African team, who had also made it to the final, by beating them. The Super Falcons are now looking to thoroughly prepare themselves ahead of the big tournament in France, and they have a lot of friendlies booked for the next few months, something that the players themselves have identified as a need.
“The tournament in China and Cyprus is not enough, because these games are in January and February,” Nigerian midfielder Ngozi Okobi told BBC Sport.
“What then happens after February until June? We need more quality international friendlies to put us in shape. Top friendlies bring the best out of the team. They also provide enough time for the players to further understand the coach’s ideas, philosophy and also to get used to ourselves.
“The World Cup is not a place for us to be trying things out, so we need top matches to prepare us adequately.”
Okobi wants to see the federation step up their commitment to the women’s team and make sure that they arrange more top matches for the Super Falcons before the World Cup starts. As of now, the team is scheduled to take part in the Cyprus Women’s Cup, running from the 25th of February until the 7th of March, and the cup will feature the likes of Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Italy, North Korea, Mexico, Slovakia, South Africa and Thailand – with Nigeria, Italy, South Africa and Thailand being the teams that are going to be present at the World Cup, making for some great opportunities to prepare for the upcoming WC. The Nigerian Football Federation has also been approached by other World Cup teams like Spain, Canada and Jamaica, asking to arrange friendlies between the sides.
When talking about the Nigerian side, star striker Asisat Oshoala is one of the first players that comes to mind. The 24-year-old won the Golden Ball as well as the Golden Boot when Nigeria got to the final of the U-20 Women’s World Cup in 2014, and she’s been voted the best African player in 2014, 2016 and 2017, and has proved herself to be a vital figure in the national side. The defence, consisting of Tochukwu Oluehi in goals and Ngozi Ebere, Osinachi Ohale and Onome Ebi in front of her, have all been a consistent sighting in the team during the past year. Desire Oparanozie and Francisca Ordega have been banging in quite a few goals, and newcomer Rasheedat Ajibade, only 19 years old, has been a welcomed addition to the team, with her ball skills and vision of the game. Ajibade is also current Nigeria and African female football freestyle champion and she’s got some mad skills.
Swede Thomas Dennerby took over as head coach of the team in 2018 on a two-year contract. He previously coached the Swedish Women’s national team between 2005-2012, leading them to a third place at the World Cup in Germany 2011. After that Dennerby stayed to work with the Swedish FA, with his main role being as an analyst and scout, before he went for the chance to take over the Nigerian side. In his first year of coaching the side, he’s managed to keep up the Super Falcon’s dominance on the African continent and clinching that important African Championship trophy. The Swede likes to play a 4-2-3-1, sometimes opting for a 4-3-3, where he can deploy a stable backline and keep his attacking options more versatile. What has been evident is that the team demands and needs more playing time against tough opposition, and it seems like their playing schedule is slowly filling up ahead of the World Cup. They recently featured in the Four Nation’s tournament in China, where they lost to China 0-3 and won 4-1 against Romania to pick up a third place.
The Super Falcons will be an exciting side to follow this spring and at the World Cup, a side bristling with talent and a hunger for more. How do you think Nigeria will do against the other teams in their group? Have a say in the comment section below!