As the Falcons kick-off their World Cup Campaign…

falcons

The Super Falcons of Nigeria will kick-off the campaign of their 8th FIFA Women’s World Cup against Norway on Saturday 8th of June, and once again, the African Champions will be carrying the hopes of the continent. Here are some thoughts on arguably the most successful national team on the African continent…

The game against Norway will be difficult, but a win is possible. Disregard and forget any analysis you may have read that the Falcons can (comfortably) take the Grasshoppers, as the Norwegian women’s team are known. The former World and Olympic Champions lost their way between 2005 and 2015 (the ‘lost their way’ meant they dropped a level from all-conquering to very good, not that they became fodder for small teams) but have been on the ascendancy since 2016. The Falcons will have their work cut out, but in football when you prepare well, anything can happen.

However, questions about the strength of the Falcons remain. Nigeria keeps churning out talented women players, many of who join the professional ranks in foreign leagues on a yearly basis. In addition to that, more and more foreign-born players are finding the Falcons appealing. What it means, is that the talent pool is widening…but the challenge has been finding the right balance. On paper, the Falcons are arguably one of the strongest teams in the world, but when the final selection (of players) are made and the team runs out onto the pitch, the product is less impressive. This may be because…

There seems to be a difficulty in finding the right balance. The pool of players available to national team selectors has exploded in the past five years, but the personnel of the Falcons has not changed much: while that may not be strange, it should be. The unchanging personnel may be a spill-over from the early years, when young girls in their teens – the likes of Florence Omagbemi, Omo Love Branch, Ann Agumanu-Chiejine, Rita Nwadike, Rachel Yamala, Phoebe Ebimiekumo, Ann Mukoro and the rest of them, all made the 1991 World Cup team, and because of their youth, went on to play multiple tournaments.

Now, younger players are restricted to age-grade tournaments, while some players that should have been moved on, or should be playing bit parts, are still starring for Falcons. That lack of balance between the old and the emerging, may cost Nigeria in France. And should that happen, it will be a sad testimony because…

Nigerians are expectant. The Nigeria Football Federation refused to renew the contract of Florence Omagbemi and her technical team following the impressive success at the 2016 African Women Cup of Nations, opting instead to hire a foreign coach. One of the reasons proffered, was the need to raise the standard of the team. The time to showcase that improvement is now. In 1999, the Falcons under Ismaila Mabo earned a place in the quarter finals where they lost a scintillating game to Brazil. The wider pool, better exposed players, plus the ‘more experienced’ coach is supposed to guarantee Nigeria at least a repeat of that. However…

The Falcons have lost twice to Norway: 8-0 at the 1995 World Cup and 3-1 at the 2000 Olympics; against France, the Falcons lost 1-0 at the 2011 World Cup and were battered 8-0 in a friendly a little over a year ago. The Falcons and Korea Republic are yet to meet at the senior level. That may be the only game Falcons will win.

 

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