After the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) cleared all their outstanding entitlements, the Super Falcons say they are in the mood and spirit to take all three points off the Grasshoppers of Norway in their first match of the 8th FIFA Women’s World Cup finals in Reims on Saturday.
One of only seven teams to have made it to every edition of the FIFA Women’s World Cup finals since the inaugural competition in 1991, the Falcons have made it out of the group stage only once previously, and that was 20 years ago in 1999.
A 2-1 defeat of North Korea and 2-0 win over Denmark, on either side of a 7-1 roasting by Team USA, steered the African champions to the quarter finals, where they came back from three goals down to draw with Brazil before losing by the golden goal in extra time.
Nigeria’s closest walk to the knockout rounds since then was Germany 2011, where they lost by the odd goal to both France and Germany and then defeated Canada by the odd goal.
Midfielder Ngozi Okobi told thenff.com (official website of the Nigeria Football Federation): “It is true that we have not really pulled our weight at the FIFA World Cup before now. But I can say we have the team to do that here in France. The NFF has done well by ensuring good preparation for the team, with the tournaments that we played.
“A lot is hanging on the first match against Norway. If we are able to get a good result, then we will take it from there.”
Norway comes into the encounter with the mindset that they should be able to steamroll the African champions. Only last week, the Grasshoppers hammered another African representative, South Africa 7-2 in a friendly. And going back 24 years, at the second edition of the FIFA World Cup staged by Sweden, Norway lashed Nigeria 8-0 in a group stage encounter in Helsinborg.
Head Coach Thomas Dennerby is asking his girls to take it one match at a time and develop a positive mindset about the finals.
“A positive mindset is key to what we are here for. You must believe in yourselves and have confidence in what you can do here. You must give it your best,” he told the players after Thursday’s training session at the Stade Jean Boucton in Reims.
A good number of the Nigerian mainstream play their club football in the Scandinavia region, to which Norway belongs. These include defender Osinachi Ohale, Ngozi Ebere and Faith Michael, midfielders Rita Chikwelu, Ngozi Okobi, Ogonna Chukwudi and Halimatu Ayinde, and forwards Anam Imo and Rasheedat Ajibade. These players should, indeed, have a very good idea of how Norway will set up and activate at the Stade Auguste-Delaune on Saturday night.
Pacy forward Asisat Oshoala, who has sealed a permanent move to FC Barcelona Ladies, was on Wednesday appointed team assistant captain. The top scorer and most valuable player of the FIFA U20 Women’s World Cup in Canada in 2014 has extra motivation to take the finals in France by storm.
Apart from sponsoring the team to preparatory tournaments in China, Cyprus, and Spain, capped with a two –week residential camping at the Avita Resort in Austria, the Nigeria Football Federation beefed up the team’s technical crew, with the appointment of Per Harlsson as conditioning coach and Matti Demegard as video analyst.
In China, the African champions played two matches, losing to the host nation but defeating Romania. In Cyprus, they lost to Belgium and Austria but defeated Thailand and Slovakia. In Spain, they narrowly lost to the Canadian national team.
While in Austria, they defeated Hungarian top division club Viktoria and also defeated a Slovenian top club, Pormuje.
Saturday’s encounter between Nigeria and Norway starts at 8pm (Nigerian Time).
23 SUPER FALCONS AT FRANCE 2019
Goalkeepers: Tochukwu Oluehi (Rivers Angels); Alaba Jonathan (Bayelsa Queens); Chiamaka Nnadozie (Rivers Angels)
Defenders: Osinachi Ohale (Vaxjo DFF, Sweden); Ngozi Ebere (Arna Bjornar, Norway); Onome Ebi (Henan Huisanhang, China); Faith Michael (Pitea IF, Sweden); Chidinma Okeke (FC Robo)
Midfielders: Rita Chikwelu (Krstianstand DFF, Sweden); Ngozi Okobi-Okeoghene (Eskiltuna United, Sweden); Evelyn Nwabuoku (Rivers Angels); Ogonna Chukwudi (Djurgardens IF, Sweden); Halimatu Ayinde (Eskiltuna United, Sweden); Amarachi Okoronkwo (Nasarawa Amazons)
Forwards: Desire Oparanozie (En Avant Guingamp, France); Anam Imo (Malmo FC Rosengard, Sweden); Asisat Oshoala (FC Barcelona, Spain); Chinaza Uchendu (SC Braga, Portugal); Uchenna Kanu (Southeastern University, USA); Rasheedat Ajibade (Alvadsnes IL, Norway); Francisca Ordega (Shanghai W. FC); Alice Ogebe (Rivers Angels); Chinwendu Ihezuo (Henana Huisanhang, China)
*By Oyediji Oluwaseun Babatunde*