City Edition: Women's World Cup Preview: Nigeria

City Edition: Women's World Cup Preview: Nigeria
This article first appeared in Issue 12 of City Edition. Ireland’s final game in the group stages of the World Cup will see them face Nigeria, and it looks likely to be a key game for both sides. The Girls in Green are in Group B alongside Australia, Canada and Nigeria. Only 33 places separate the four teams in the latest world rankings, with Olympic champions Canada seventh, Australia 13th, Ireland 24th and Nigeria a further 16 places behind Ireland. However, with Canada’s current injury list and the feeling that Nigeria’s ranking and form last year is not a true reflection of their ability, it is no surprise than many observers are referring to the group as the Group of Death. Ireland and Nigeria meet in the final group fixture on July 31. The Super Falcons were beaten in the semi-final of last year’s African Cup of Nations and are the highest ranked team from the four African nations at the tournament, ahead of Zambia, Morocco and South Africa. Nigerian football expert Biola Solace-Chukwu believes that, despite their setbacks, Nigeria are expecting to do well at the World Cup with their mix of young and experienced players, none more so than Onome Ebi, one of four players in the tournament who will be playing in their sixth World Cup. “Nigeria are basically expecting the Super Falcons to do better than they have done in previous tournaments,” says Biola. “This is a team that hasn’t got as far as the quarter finals since 1999. So, Nigerians are really yearning for at least a quarter-final place this time to match our record that we have been holding. Definitely the players are looking forward to doing that as well. Some of the players have played for the national team for so many years. Forty-year-old Onome Ebi, for instance, will be playing at the World Cup for the sixth time so she is pretty experienced and has high hopes to do better at the tournament. She wasn’t part of the 1999 team that reached the quarter-final so she would definitely like to do that. “It hasn’t been a great time in Nigerian women’s football in the last year and to be honest the hopes haven’t been so high but somehow we need to keep focusing on the Super Falcons can break that quarter-final jinx for the first time since 1999. “Last year we finished fourth in the African Women’s Cup of Nations and that was Nigeria’s worst result in the African Women’s Cup of Nations in a long time, I think it could be the worst result ever.” Nigeria have a number of players playing at the highest level around the world and there is no doubt who their star is. Fresh from winning the Champions League and with 90 goals in 96 club games since joining Spain’s Liga F, Asisat Oshoala is a player who could light up this World Cup. “Definitely Asisat Oshoala, who plays for Barcelona and won the Champions League with Barcelona very recently,” says Biola. “She has been immense for the club since she joined in 2019. “Uchenna Kanu, who plays for Racing Louiseville, is bagging goals. We have quite a lot of players who are doing well individually. There is the likes of Rasheedat Ajibade [Atlético Madrid] as well. I mentioned Onome Ebi as well who is 40 years old and is still pretty solid in defence. There is Ashleigh Plumptra with Leicester City, who will be playing in her first World Cup. These are very exciting players to look forward to watching at the World Cup. “We mostly like to play very attacking football. With Nigeria, attacking football has always been important for the squad. We like to score as many goals as possible especially at the World Cup where it is very, very difficult. So, yes, Nigeria will be going all out with at least three, maybe four strikers.” With Canada and Australia both expected to go far in the competition, Biola pulls no punches when it comes to her country facing Ireland. “To be honest, the players, management and Nigerians as a whole actually think Ireland should be the easiest fixture in that group,” she says. “It’s a pretty tough group. With Canada, co-host Australia, it is going to be a very tough group. I know there are no minnows in women’s football anymore but somehow Nigerian’s believe that Ireland should be “the weak link” in that group. They are the team that we can most likely get maximum points against. Of course, in every match you want to do your best, but Nigerians are almost certain that we can get the win against Ireland.” Chris O’Mahony, @ChrisOMsport

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