The Super Falcons rode a wing, several prayers and the anxiety of millions of Nigeria soccer fans, before they qualified for the knockout stage of the FIFA Women’s World Cup for the first time since the 1999 set made it to the quarter finals in the United States. The Falcons will now face three-time finalists and two-time winners, Germany. And for Thomas Dennerby and his group, this is a second chance at redemption, because…
Dennerby has not shown his worth and Falcons have not been impressive. The Swede has not covered himself in glory since he arrived Nigeria in 2018. To be clear, the three points garnered by the Falcons in the group stage is the minimum requirement, and they are in the next round simply because the ball bounced well for them…fair enough. But the 1999 team that got to the Quarter Finals won two games; they bounced back from a 7-1 hammering by the USA, to defeat Denmark 2-0, and claim their spot, no prayers needed.
Dennerby led the 2011 Swedish team to 3rd Place finish, after they claimed maximum 9 points from a Group C that had the United States. And the Falcons team to that tournament also ended the Group stage with 3 points, courtesy of a win over Canada. So while the current group of Falcons have done well by qualifying for the knockout stage…
The football has been dire. There were questions surrounding the non-renewal of Florence Omagbemi’s contract when the Swede was appointed, but, since the collective wish was to see a Falcons team that would not only dominate the continent, but also do better at the global stage, the murmurs were muted. Then the Women AFCON in Ghana happened and the Falcons recorded two firsts: they lost to South Africa, and for the first time in the history of their 11 Championship wins, failed to score from open play in both the semifinal and the final. The extensive camping and pre-World Cup friendlies seem to have done nothing for the Falcons; the football in France has been as dire as what we saw in Ghana.
However, having qualified for this stage, the Falcons can change the story. The team has now been together in tournament-mode for longer than any Falcons team in the past 20 years. The resilience they showed against France was better than what we saw against Norway, and I daresay even better than what we saw against Korea; the Falcons are unfurling their wings for flight!
Germany look Unstoppable, but stranger things have happened. Not just that, while Nigerians are worrying about the Germans, the Europeans will not exactly be sleeping well either. The Falcons and Die Nationalelf have met at two World Cups and two Olympics, and while the Falcons have lost every one of those games, only one loss has been lopsided: the 4-0 defeat of the debutant Falcons at the 1991 Women’s World Cup. The other three losses have been by one goal margins: 2-1 in 2004, and 1-0 in 2008 and 2011. If the Falcons keep their heads, they can pull this off. The Germans scored six goals at the group stage, but that was (only) because they put four past Banyana Banyana…another African debutant!
Now, the question is: How can the Falcons earn a shock win over the Germans? The answer to that question is simple. The Nigerian women must…
- Pass the ball well, for once. The Germans will be efficient and punish every mistake. The odds are that they will take one of every three chances offered…the Banyana were not as bad as the 4-0 result suggested, and Andile Dlamini made some superb saves; but all the mistakes of the South Africans were punished.
- It is not enough to cut out mistakes, the Falcons must take their chances. The coordination of the front runners has not been top-notch, and this is the game where everything must work.
- Finally, they must play to your strength. Apart from the shambles against Norway, the defense has been just short of outstanding. So, if the Falcons will need to put bodies behind the ball, so be it. If all they will offer going forward is the speed of Francesca Ordega in flashes, we will take it. If the Falcons will get to the quarter finals via penalty shootout, we will celebrate.
Afterall, that was how they became African Champions: by winning back-to-back shootouts.