It took until the last moments of the group stages of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup for the Falcons to take up flight and qualify for the second round of the tournament, where they will face Germany on Saturday.
With all anxiety following Chile versus Thailand encounter and the melancholy that seemed to envelope most Nigerian hearts as the Chileans started scoring in the second half, our qualification came with a huge sigh of relief.
This was especially when the referee blew the final whistle as Chile could not get the third goal that would have knocked out the Falcons. But now they are here and the Germany challenge must be construed as that against France.
In order to have a chance against the two-time world champions, they must replicate all the good things they did against France and South Korea and try as much as possible to eliminate all the mistakes they made in their three group matches.
Create more goalscoring chances
In the three matches played so far, the Falcons had just three attempts on target – an average of one a game, a truly dismal stat for any team looking to be successful.
The two goals scored by the Falcons have been an own goal and a solo goal – no team goal and seemingly no actual goal-scoring plan.
To beat Germany on Saturday, the Falcons will need to score some goals. From the three matches, it looked more like hit and miss attempts.
The trio of Asisat Osoala, Ordega, and Desire Oparanozie must work more in tandem to create more scoring chances for one another though they will need some help from the midfielders.
Play a more compact game
Against France, the Falcons did not concede the first shot on target until the 65th minute as the central defenders – Onome Ebi and Osinachi Ohale were very disciplined in charging and closing down spaces immediately it developed in front of them.
But the trio of Ngozi Okobi, Rita Chikwelu, and Halimatu Ayinde must get help from the flank players like Francesca Ordega.
Whilst the Falcons have become more compact, they also need to be proactive to recognise where danger portends.
Their opponents are a wily and experienced bunch, who have made 56 scoring attempts and 25 have hit the target.
Don’t give away corners and set plays
In the 4-0 victory over South Africa in their last group game, the Germans scored two headers – one direct from a corner.
The fourth goal was also created from a set play after a header rebounded off the post for a tap in.
The other was a goalkeeping mistake.
For the Falcons to stand any chance of getting to the quarterfinal, they might need to completely shut out the experienced Germans, who are yet to concede in France, whilst scoring six times.
Osoala must give much more
Though she has scored a beautiful goal in France, her overall output has been below average.
Her touch, anticipation, and teamwork are sorely lacking, as she seems to be playing for herself.
But she must recognise that as the star player of the team, there is a great responsibility on her shoulders to instigate her mates to play better.
She can lead this team but it must be by action and not words.
Disciplined in tackle
One poor characteristic of the Falcons, nay African teams on the world stage, one the Germans will try to aggravate is the penchant for rash tackles.
In as much as VAR has been deployed to get important decisions right – there is no adjudication for two yellow cards as against a straight red card.
With an average of almost 13 fouls per game, the Falcons are playing in dangerous territory.
There have been just two red cards in the tournament so far – both shown to African teams and both second cautions.
The coach, Thomas Dennerby, believes his team is at par with any of the teams in the top 20 ranked teams by FIFA.
“I think the Nigerian team is definitely so much better than the ranking,” the former Sweden coach told FIFA.
“Everyone can see from our performances that we are not acting like a team ranked 38. It’s a good team. We can play any team between 10 -20 and win the game. And play very close games with the 10 best also. So yes, we are a world-class team.”
He now needs his players to believe this assessment and to give a world-class performance against the former world champions.