Wednesday, 6th December 2023

Super Falcons remain defiant, undaunting, eye record books

By Gowon Akpodonor
06 August 2023   |   3:12 am
The history books are littered with stories of fighters that were derided, written off, and consigned to the footnote of war tales only for them to rise above all odds to emerge heroes of their time

Nigeria players celebrate their victory after the end of the Australia and New Zealand 2023 Women’s World Cup Group B football match between Australia and Nigeria at Brisbane Stadium in Brisbane on July 27, 2023. (Photo by Patrick Hamilton / AFP)

The history books are littered with stories of fighters that were derided, written off, and consigned to the footnote of war tales only for them to rise above all odds to emerge heroes of their time.

Perhaps, that illustrates the Super Falcons’ story going into the ongoing FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

When the draw for the competition was made and Nigeria was put in the same group with Olympic champions, Livesport Canada, better-rated Australia, and the Republic of Ireland, not many people gave the Super Falcons any chance of surviving the group termed “Group of Death.”

The reason was simply that even though Nigeria has been in all the Women’s World Cup finals from China ’91 to France 2019, sports betting online the Falcons had not done anything to suggest they were ready to join the elite class of the game.

Before the kickoff of the ongoing showpiece, the Super Falcons’ biggest victories were the 2-0 win against Denmark at the USA ‘99 edition of the championship as well as the 2-0 triumph over the Korea Republic in France 2019.

On the flip side, the Super Falcons had suffered some heavy defeats in the World Cup, Virtual including the 0-8 loss to Norway at the second edition, Sweden ’95, and the 1-7 thrashing by the USA on home soil in June 1999.

Between 1999 and 2011, the Super Falcons were a laughing stock at the World Cup, failing to win a single match in eight games. Their only victory came in their ninth game, a 1-0 win over Canada in the German City of Dresden, with former African Footballer of the Year award winner, shop bet Perpetua Nkwocha, accounting for the goal. That was after both teams lost their first two group matches to host, Germany, and France.

The Super Falcons also hold the unwanted record of having the lowest goal difference in the history of the World Cup (-43), winning just four of their 26 matches. Nigeria failed to score in 12 of their 16 matches.

Apart from the poor shows in earlier competitions, the Nigerian team had a history of fighting with the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) over bonus issues at the World Cup.

This resurfaced in their build-up to the 2023 World Cup, bet shop when they threatened to boycott their opening game against Canada. The protest died down following the timely intervention of the Presidency.

This has given the team time to concentrate on the questions on the pitch, which they have answered magnificently.

Debutants, Morocco, will meet former colonial masters, France, in the round of 16 at the ongoing FIFA Women’s World Cup

African football followers, who witnessed the games of the last Women’s Nations Cup in Morocco, would be pleasantly surprised by the change in the fortunes of the Super Falcons, who barely managed to qualify for the 2023 Women’s World Cup by finishing as the fourth-best team in the continent.

On the eve of their first group game against Olympics champions, Canada, veteran defender and Super Falcons captain, Onome Ebi, stated that their dream was to get beyond the group stage.

Downplaying the talk about money trying to destabilise the team, Ebi said: “Much more than money, it is a matter of pride for us. Of course, we will like the money. We were in the quarterfinals in 1999 and that is a long time ago. We want to work to go far in this tournament. Last time, in France, we got to the Round of 16. We are looking beyond the group stage here.”

The 0-0 draw with Canada was Super Falcons’ first scoreless stalemate in 27 FIFA Women’s World Cup outings. Ever-present Nigeria was the only African team to earn a point in Australia and New Zealand after the first set of matches, with other flag bearers, Zambia, South Africa, and Morocco denied of any point by their respective opponents.

The draw with Canada gave the Falcons the impetus they needed to excel in the World Cup, as Nigeria shocked the entire sporting world by beating co-hosts, Australia 3-2 in a game Onome Ebi featured in her 15th match in the FIFA World Cup finals.

It was a good way of ‘repaying’ the Australians in front of their home crowd. The two teams had met once before – back in the group stage of the 2015 edition, and Australia emerged victorious on that occasion following two unanswered goals from Kyah Simon at Winnipeg Stadium, Canada.

That victory in Brisbane over the Australians opened a new chapter in Nigeria women’s football history.

At the age of 40 years and 80 days, Ebi became the second-oldest player to feature in a Women’s World Cup match, and the oldest African player. The oldest player to make an appearance in FIFA Women’s World Cup history is Brazil’s Formiga, who lined up against France in 2019 aged 41 years and 112 days.

Nigeria’s Super Falcons striker Asisat Oshoala celebrates her goal in the 72nd minute against Australia on Thursday, July 27, 2023.

Apart from Onome Ebi, Barcelona forward, Asisat Oshoala, also became the second Super Falcons player to make history in the FIFA Women’s World Cup. She scored Nigeria’s third goal in their 3-2 defeat of Australia and wrote her name in the record books as the first Nigerian player to score in three editions of the Women’s World Cup.

Oshoala, who scored once in 2019 in the Falcons’ 2-0 defeat of South Korea at the Stade des Alpes in Grenoble, France, was on target four years earlier in Canada, where she also scored once in the 3-3 draw with Sweden.

Another Nigerian player, Osinachi Ohale, was voted the VISA Player of the Match after the 3-2 defeat of Australia.

Before that famous victory over Australia in Brisbane, the Matildas had won their last three FIFA Women’s World Cup matches against African opposition. They had also won ten of their last 11 international matches (Win:10, Lost 1).

The Matildas had also kept seven clean sheets in their last nine international fixtures, only failing to score in one of their last 21 FIFA Women’s World Cup group matches.

On their side, the Super Falcons had won only two of their last 18 FIFA Women’s World Cup encounters (Draw 3, Lost 13).

The Super Falcons needed a draw to advance to the knockout stage, and they got it in the last group match against the already-eliminated Republic of Ireland.

Now in the Round of 16, every member of the Super Falcons will earn $60, 000, which is about N46,258,800.

According to the breakdown of the payments accruing to players at the championship, the players will earn $30,000 (N23, 122,200.) each in the group stage. It will rise to $60, 000 (46,258,800) in the round of 16, while, if they beat England to enter the quarterfinal, each of them will get $90,000 (N69,606,000).

Playing in the semifinal will fetch each of them $165,000 (N130, 102,500) if they finished as the third-best team, each player will earn $180,000 (N139, 212,000).

Coming second at the end of hostilities will fetch each player $195,000 (N154, 533, 611, 505), while they will get $270,000 (N209, 441,025) each if they win the competition.

Apart from the huge financial incentives FIFA has put on the table for each player, members of the Super Falcons are also benefiting from the $ 1.7 million, which President Bola Tinubu approved for the team’s participation at the World Cup.

According to an official of the NFF, who spoke with The Guardian from the team’s camp in Brisbane, the $1.7million is meant to take care of the players’ daily camp allowances, as well as estacodes and allowances for technical officials and medical expenses for the players and officials.

With the round of 16 tickets already secured, Coach Randy Waldrum says the Super Falcons are “destined for something special” in Australia and New Zealand.

England needed only a point against China on Tuesday to top Group D, and they got it specially, pounding the Chinese 6-1 at Adelaide.

The victory pitted them against the 40th-ranked Super Falcons for the winner-takes-all clash on Monday. It has also sent fear into the minds of many Nigerians, who feel that it might be difficult for the Super Falcons to pass the English test.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA – JULY 27: Randy Waldrum, Head Coach of Nigeria, is seen prior to the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023 Group B match between Australia and Nigeria at Brisbane Stadium on July 27, 2023 in Brisbane / Meaanjin, Australia. (Photo by Elsa – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

For Coach Waldrum, however, the match against England tomorrow will take care of itself. “We were 20 spots below all the other teams in the group — at a minimum — in the rankings,” said Waldrum, who was in open conflict with Nigerian football chiefs on the eve of the World Cup over pay and funding.

“It’s a testament to these players, they have not been given everything that other federations have, but given the opportunity to get here they have put everything into it,” the 66-year-old Texan added.

“I just feel like they all believe we are destined for something special at this World Cup. Our journey is not over and we will be very, very well prepared for whoever we play next week.

“I give the credit to the players. It is an amazing group of women.”
Nigeria has been to all nine Women’s World Cups since the tournament began in 1991, but this is only the third time they have reached the knockout phase

It would be recalled that Coach Waldrum was branded “a loudmouth and incompetent” by the NFF Spokesman, Ademola Olajire, after speaking out before the tournament.

Asked if his team’s performances had rebuffed that criticism on his behalf, Waldrum preferred to talk about his players.

“I can’t control how people feel about me,” he said.

“All I can do is do the best job I can and I hope we have proved some people who did not believe in us wrong.

“The credit goes to these young women for believing in what I am trying to get them to do. I could not have asked more from them.”

Having got out of a tough group, Waldrum said his team feared nobody, not even England.

“Bring on the European champions, why not?
“Don’t count us out against England, we will be prepared,” Waldrum stated.
“I’m so proud of these players because so many people didn’t believe,” he said.