How Far Can The Falcons Surge In Canada?

TWO days away from the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada, Nigeria coach Edwin Okon is fine-tuning his squad in preparation for their first game against Sweden on June 8
Nigeria are ranked 33rd in the world and will take some positives into a difficult group stage following a 9-0 win over Canadian outfit Woodbridge Strikers last Saturday.
Even if the USA retain the tag of favourites to top Group D, Nigeria must snatch the runners-up spot to at least raise hopes of beating their 1999 quarter-final finish. An opening win over rivals Sweden is imperative.
Regarded as outsiders on the world stage over the last two decades, Nigeria re-emerged as African champions last year, reawakening their continental dominance. This achievement could get them fired up to reach the last four after been considered perennial underachievers in recent years.
Nigeria ended their qualification campaign without a single defeat at the recent African Women’s Championships in Namibia where they finished as champions, beating Cameroon 2-0 in a pulsating final.
Adjudged to be the 32nd-best football playing team in the world by the recent quarterly ranking released earlier in February, Nigeria are the lowest-ranked nation in Group D. Their rivals, the States, Sweden and Australia, are second, fifth and tenth in the world respectively.
Even at this, Edwin Okon’s ladies remain the best Africa as playing in the final at the AWC secured them an automatic qualification spot for the World Cup.
In six previous appearances, Nigeria fell five times out of the group stages, but managed just once to finish in the top eight, bowing out to Brazil at USA 1991 in 5-4 penalty shoot-out.
The less-fancied Super Falcons seem strongly determined and more focused as a team seeking to upset the world, combining their experience both at youth and senior level.
Aside huge advantages in age and strength, most players in the final squad have featured at least in a World Cup or an international age-grade competition just like their coach; at such, they have no reason to fear their more-illustrious opponents.
Nigeria will look to her deadliest strikers in Asisat Oshoala, Francisca Ordega, Desire Oparanozie and Ngozi Okobi as their potent weapons to lead the attack against opponents in Canada.
Kazakhstan-based midfielder Evelyn Nwabuoku, England-based striker Oshoala, US-based Ordega and France-based Oparanozie as well as Courtney Dike and Iniabasi Umotong, will likely be delight to watch.
With the golden generation already off the stage as retired Stella Mbachu, included goalkeeper Precious Dede and four-time African player of the year Perpetua Nkwocha could play an inspirational role in the dressing room.
Nigeria will look unto her deadliest strikers in Asisat Oshoala, Francisca Ordega, Desire Oparanozie, Ngozi Okobi as their newest matured potent weapons to lead the attack against opponents in Canada.
The aforementioned front-women have shown their exploits against low-profile sides – Mali’s All African Games qualifier and Toronto’s warm-up friendly with WoodBridge FC for example – managing 17 goals without conceding in just two goals in a month apart. The only exceptions were the host-nation Canada, whom they held to a scoreless draw in an international friendly.
Boasting top regular overseas-based professionals in Kazakhstan-based midfielder Evelyn Nwabuoku, England-based striker Oshoala, US-based Ordega and France-based Oparanozie as well as Courtney Dike and Iniabasi Umotong, Nigeria should be a delight to watch.
From the home front, the likes of Delta Queens’ duo of Ngozi Okobi and Halimatu Ayinde as well as Rivers Angels’Ugo Njoku, who all featured at the U20 level will likely be delight to watch.
Nigeria get jibes for their often lack of history failing to march their pedigree as African best among top women footballing nations in the World since the inception of the competition. A story they will hope to rewrite at this edition. The emergence of a youthful, energetic, block-blustering Oshoala, even at age 20, may perhaps deepen their run this time.
As guests in what has been tagged the ‘Group of Death’ with USA, Sweden and Australia at the 2015 edition, the Nigeria have been ruthlessly imposing and consistent.
It was fitting that Oshoala, the maiden BBC Women Footballer and reigning African Player of the Year, has continued to astound since rising to stardom at the U20 level in 2014.
She turned the first African-based player to play in the English Women’s Super League since joining Liverpool Ladies of England in January from Rivers Angels. The 20-year-old remains one of the expected star performers at the competition after her award-winning display at the U20 Women’s World Cup in Canada last year has raised expectations.
The African giants will hope to retain their tags as underdogs and will explain, simultaneously, that their less-heralded striking talents-Ordega and Oparanozie-can surprise their more illustrious opponents. Both have accrued huge playing experience from several professional stints in Europe.
Coach Okon is confident his team could make the last four places. The former Falconets coach believes they can build upon their success at the recent African Women’s Championship with the team’s individual qualities.
“Our target in Canada will be to surpass the quarter final best record of the Super Falcons at previous World Cups. We have very young and combative girls who would give their best in every game to get results,” Okon told Goal.
“What they lacked in experience, they make up with their skills, strength and strong mentality. With this spirit, I can beat my chest that we can get to the semi-finals. We are African champions and going to prove it in Canada,” he concluded.