Yep, I said it. The Nigeria Women National Team are not likely to become world beaters we are all hoping for, when they land in France for the 8th edition of FIFA Women’s World Cup; neither will they be able to offer more than what we saw at the Africa Women Cup of Nations in Ghana. The records will show that the Nigerian women won their 11th Championship, but before we get our hopes up, we must not forget what we witnessed in Ghana.
We saw a team that played like they were not coached. This may seem harsh on Thomas Dennerby, but the Falcons that took the pitch against South Africa in that opening game looked ridiculously infantile tactically. The quality of the players on parade, coupled with their combined experience meant that much more was expected from them. Instead, football fans were served:
- A team that failed to string five passes together for most of the tournament, as the players constantly either misdirect passes, or blindly booted the ball away. It was as if the team did not spend a day together before departing for Cape Coast.
- Rashidat Ajibade’s cameo role is (maybe) an indication the coach does not know his best 11? Ajibade may have been listed as the youngest in the team, but she’s arguably one of the most talented.
On the flip side all the blame of their poor performance in Ghana cannot be placed at the foot of the coach alone, the Nigeria Football Federation must take some of the blame. The team was poorly prepared; and it’s almost certain the ill-preparation will be repeated on the way to France.
The ‘solid preparation’ promised by the NFF is too late. The South African Women national team announced a friendly fixture against Sweden during the African Women Championship. Shortly after the event, the United States Women national team announced the Banyana Banyana as one of the teams they will play in May before they depart for France. Simply put: the serious teams already have their itinerary planned. The Falcons are not likely to get any team of quality to play now. That is the sad reality.
The last hope then, are the invitational tournaments…but sadly, the Falcons may not get that option too. There are three major women invitational tournaments: the most popular is the Algarve Cup hosted by Portugal, the Cyprus Cup and the SheBelieves Cup. The three are played about the same time, but the SheBelieves Cup is now the most prestigious. The fixtures for that event is out. The ‘membership’ of the Algarve Cup is ‘closed’ as particular nations get invited every year. That leaves the Cyprus event. But will the Cypriots invite the Falcons again after the disaster of last year, when the NFF accepted the invitation but the Falcons did not attend?
The only option, is for Dennerby to use the proposed January camping plan select home based players and forge a team. Then, when the foreign based players arrive, select a few of them and infuse into the already forged Falcons. The truth is that the Falcons may not have enough time and may not play enough games before the World Cup; that means what we saw of them in Ghana may be child’s play, given the superior opponents they will face in France.
The South African Women’s team that ran rings around the Falcons and handed them their only defeat in Ghana has only six foreign based players. The key to their unity was the time spent playing together under a capable coach. Thomas Dennerby should prove his value by working that experiment.