Hurdles for Super Falcons as World Cup begins
Following the oddly familiar row on match bonuses and other distractions, the Nigerian female national team will face some of the toughest tests ever at this year’s soccer fiesta, Gowon Akpodonor writes
It is almost one year since Africa’s best women teams gathered in Morocco to fight for the continental bragging right. That honour went to South Africa, who defeated Morocco in the final to take the crown.
One year after, the teams have moved to a bigger canvas, where they will face the best sides from across the world for the World Cup title.
From today through to August 20, the world’s best women footballers will gather in Australia and New Zealand to fight for the FIFA Women World Cup trophy.
Currently domiciled with the United States of America’s national team, the battle for the title this year promises some fierce and exciting games as more teams have come of age than in previous editions.
While in the past, U.S., Germany, Norway, Sweden, Japan, China and South Korea dominated the game, the emergence of England, Spain, Canada, Holland and France as serious contenders has added a new dimension to the fight for the championship trophy.
Although the world’s biggest pundits have not mentioned Nigeria’s potential to upset the dominant teams in the competition, the Super Falcons believe 2023 is their best opportunity to rise above the quarterfinal stage.
After their first quarterfinal berth at USA ’99 edition, under the late coach Ismaila Mabo, the Super Falcons waited for 12 years before they could win another game at the Copa du Mundo. That victory came at Germany 2011 edition of the competition against Canada, with former African Footballer of the Year, Perpetua Nkwocha, accounting for the lone goal.
While players and officials of the Super Falcons were celebrating the win, Canada’s striker, Christine Sinclair, sat at a corner of the stadium, with her eyes fixed on the scoreboard.
Sinclair, who wore a face mark in the match following a broken nose she suffered in their opening game against Germany, could not understand why Canada should lose to Nigeria after playing so well.
“We have ourselves to blame for this defeat, Sinclair told The Guardian. “We played well, but we lost. Congratulations to your country, Nigeria. But I want to tell you that the space belongs to us (Canada) in the nearest future. Just watch out for our girls,” she stated.
True to Sinclair’s prediction, Canada rose so fast, winning Olympics gold medal in women’s football at Tokyo Olympics, where they defeated Sweden 3-2 in a penalty shootout after extra time ended 1-1.
The 40-year-old Sinclair is playing in her sixth World Cup, same as Nigeria’s Onome Ebi. While Sinclair and her Canadian teammates are moving on a fast lane, the Super Falcons, regrettably, remain static, despite being one of the few teams to appear in all editions of the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Perhaps, the only ‘major thing’ associated with the Super Falcons is their frequent agitation for monetary reward at major competitions, including the World Cup.
The Super Falcons have failed to qualify for the Olympics Games in the last three editions, London 2012, Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020. Their last appearance at the Olympics was at Beijing 2008. The nine-time African champions lost to Cote d’Ivoire in the last Olympics final qualification series under coach Christopher Danjuma.
So, tomorrow’s clash between Nigeria and Canada is a rematch of sorts, although the gap between the teams have since widened in favour of the North Americans. However, what happens in the game would depend on the Super Falcons’ state of mind in the game.
Three weeks ago, news filtered out of the Super Falcons’ camp in Australia that they were planning to boycott their opening game against Canada after the General Secretary of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Mohammed Sanusi, told them their match bonuses for the World Cup had been cancelled by the federation.
This is, apart from the huge financial incentives FIFA has put on the table for each player in this year’s World Cup. Each player will pocket $30,000 in the group stage of the championship.
According to the report, the decision to boycott the opening game was taken after six senior players: Captain Onome Ebi, Rasheedat Ajibade, Asisat Oshoala, Ohale Osinachi, Tochukwu Oluehi and Desire Oparanozie, held a lengthy meeting on arrival at the Mercure Resorts, Gold Coast, following Sanusi’s announcement.
“We are going ahead to press for our demands,” a senior player said. “We are ready to go as far as missing our first game against Canada on July 21 because this has to stop.
“On Wednesday night, we held a meeting where we agreed that we were going to find out if what we were asking for is legitimate, and that if it’s legitimate, we will press for our demands. It was what was agreed. The next meeting will be after we get the information we need and then the protest will start,” the player stated.
According to the report, shortly before the Super Falcons departed Abuja for Australia July 2, Sanusi, during a meeting with the players, told them they would not be paid match bonuses by the NFF, since FIFA had already announced that every player would get $30,000 in the group stage of the tournament in Australia and New Zealand.
Sanusi was said to have also announced that the players would no longer be given 30 per cent from the $1.5 million FIFA grant to all member associations for the group stage of the competition. It was a big shocker to the players.
“The General Secretary came for the meeting clutching so many papers; he told us that we won’t be paid match bonuses at the World Cup because FIFA had already given each player $30,000 for the group stage. He also said we won’t get 30 per cent from the $1,560,000 FIFA would give the NFF.
“We were shocked, team morale went down immediately because we couldn’t believe what the man was saying. One of the oldest players in the team asked him if FIFA would deduct the money ($30,000) they would give us from the $1.5m they gave the federation? But he (Sanusi) said no. So, she said if it’s like that, then it shouldn’t affect our match bonuses.
“After several minutes of argument, Sanusi asked us if we would have preferred the $9,000 match bonus or the $30,000 from FIFA. We have been suffering this maltreatment and injustice long before coach Randy Waldrum took charge of the team. He is not the one instigating us. When the team revolted after the 2018 WAFCON and the 2019 World Cup, was Randy with us? We are fighting a good cause, and we don’t need anyone to push us. They should allow the coach do his job,” the report further stated.
Although team captain, Ebi, has since debunked the report, saying: “I don’t know where boycott rumour is coming from,” many football-loving Nigerians are not in a hurry to brush aside the threat by the players because, to them, ‘there is no smoke without fire.’
The boycott threat by the Super Falcons has elicited interest of the country’s lawmakers, who, last week, summoned the NFF to explain the situation.
This followed the adoption of a motion by Olumide Osoba at plenary, in which, he said the Super Falcons currently face significant challenges and unrest within their camp.
He expressed concerns over the potential embarrassment and negative impact such protest would have on Nigeria’s reputation if it went ahead without intervention as witnessed in previous incidents involving the ladies. The House then urged the NFF to pay match bonuses and allowances to the Super Falcons.
The Super Falcons are not the only African team involved in bonus row ahead of this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup. The Banyana Banyana of South Africa also staged their protest, but unlike the Super Falcons, who waited until leaving the country before voicing out their disagreement, the South Africans engaged their football governing body, SAFA, in a more diplomatic way, and the issues were resolved.
A source close to the South African team told The Guardian that long before their final preparation for the World Cup began, the players told SAFA that they won’t honour a friendly match against Botswana, if issues concerning payment of their bonuses and match allowances were not resolved.
Like the NFF, SAFA was said to have made it clear to the players not to expect any money since FIFA had set aside huge financial incentives for them at the World Cup.
“The difference between SAFA and the NFF in this case is that, over there in South Africa, there are various Foundations, which helps the SAFA president to raise money for the national teams,” the source stated.
“From that money, SAFA was able to share substantial amount to the ladies, and they are satisfied with it. The players had earlier wanted a payday of up to R900 000 per player, but they were satisfied with what they got from money raised for them by the Foundations. The only major issue is the amount of money to be paid to support staff of Banyana Banyana at the World Cup.”
SAFA stated last Friday that it won’t pay R115, 000 (about N4.9m) to Banyana Banyana support staff at Fifa Women’s World Cup. The South African Football Association distanced itself from the pronouncement made by the South African Football Players Union regarding the payment to Banyana Banyana’s support staff at the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
The Banyana Banyana will face Sweden, Argentina and Italy in Group G. They will begin their matches on Sunday. While the Super Falcons were thinking of monetary rewards, their Zambian counterparts are focusing on how to make great impact at their first World Cup.
Zambia, who defeated the Super Falcons in the third place match at the last African Women Championship in Morocco, stunned former World Champions, Germany, with a 3-2 victory in a World Cup warm-up match, a few days ago.
While Germany are second in FIFA’s world rankings, Zambia are ranked 77 in the world. The Super Falcons will begin their campaign against Canada tomorrow, a fixture the Nigerians must pick a point to brighten their chances of making it from the group. A second group game comes up on July 27 against co-hosts, Australia, before the last game on July 31 against the most improved team in the group, Northern Ireland.
At the 2015 edition of the World Cup held in Canada, which The Guardian also covered, former Super Falcons coach, Edwin Okon, made some technical blunders by using Francisca Ordega as the team’s point striker in their second group match against Australia in the city of Winnipeg. A ‘short’ Ordega found it so difficult to make any impact in the midst of tall Australian defenders. By the time she was substituted for veteran Perpetua Nkwocha, the damage had been done. It ended 2-0 for the Australians.
Ordega is still in this squad, but Coach Randy Waldrun has other options. For U.S.-based former coach of the Super Falcons, Sam Okpodu, the team might find it hard to overcome their challenges from Canada and Australia at this World Cup.
“Canada and Australia are well organised and well encouraged. They don’t deal with this same problem, which the Super Falcons are facing. FIFA’s financial incentives in this World Cup will surely have great impact on the players, but I feel the Super Falcons deserve whatever bonuses or allowances they are asking for. Anyone thinking otherwise is just unnecessarily jealous of what the girls will make from the World Cup,” he said on a Sportsville programme last week.
Morocco’s national team, dubbed the Atlas Lionesses, as well as Zambia are making their debut this month at the FIFA Women’s World Cup. The Banyana Banyana of South Africa are making their second appearance, while the veteran Super Falcons of Nigeria are in their ninth appearance in ninth editions.
Australia and New Zealand hosting the 2023 Women’s World Cup makes it the first edition to be held in the Southern Hemisphere, the first Women’s World Cup to be hosted by two countries, and the first FIFA senior competition for either men or women to be held across two confederations.
The trophy is 47 cm (19 in) tall, weighs 4.6 kg (10 lb) and is made of sterling silver clad in 23-karat yellow and white gold, with an estimated value in 2015 of approximately $30,000. By contrast, the men’s World Cup trophy is fabricated in 18-karat gold and has a precious metal value of $150,000. However, a new Winner’s Trophy is constructed for each women’s champion to take home, while there is only one original men’s trophy which is retained by FIFA with each men’s champion taking home a replica trophy.
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