On paper, today’s game between Nigeria and England at the ongoing FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand looks like a classic David versus Goliath clash. The gap between both sides indicates that it is a mismatch, but it is not really that simple.
England are ranked as the world’s fourth best team by FIFA, while Nigeria is number 40. But results in the two-week-old competition have shown that global ranking counts for nothing when the ball bounces.
To qualify for the round of 16, Nigeria held Olympic champions, Canada, ranked as number seven, to a goalless draw, defeated 10th ranked Australia 3-2 before managing a goalless stalemate with Ireland.
England, on the other hand, struggled to 1-0 wins against Haiti and Denmark before a massive 6-1 thumping of China in their last group game. England are European champions, but members of the Nigerian team are not bothered by that status.
Apart from the fame a win would bring to the girls, there is also a small issue of riches involved in the team’s quest for eminence in this competition.
According to thenff.com, “at the team meeting before the final Group B clash with Republic of Ireland at the now-familiar Lang Park, Coach Randy Waldrum had a sheet hidden under his instruction paper on the small board as he spoke to his charges. After the instructions, he unveiled the hidden sheet to reveal the amount of $60,000 – what each player would be receiving as prize money for reaching the Round of 16. The players roared.
“The American is likely to do the same at Monday’s pre-match meeting, with the figure a more handsome $90,000. There is also the quest to get one over the English side, which stopped Nigeria at the same in Sweden in 1995.
Among the battles today is the clash between Nigeria’s star player Asisat Oshoala against England’s defender and captain, Millie Bright, a fellow Ballon d’Or nominee like Oshoala.
Available to Waldrum for this important battle are midfield anchors Christy Ucheibe and Halimatu Ayinde, and attacking midfielder Rasheedat Ajibade, who are in the form of their lives.
According to statistics provided by thenff.com, Ucheibe excelled in 18 tackles in the group phase, while Ayinde had the highest passing accuracy in the match against Australia and won more possession against Republic of Ireland. They will form the first line of protection for in-form goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie and defenders Osinachi Ohale, Oluwatosin Demehin, Michelle Alozie and Ashleigh Plumptre.
Many have argued that Oshoala performs is better when she comes in as a second half substitute, but it is left for Waldrum to choose between starting the Barcelona star or sticking with Ifeoma Onumonu, Toni Payne and Uchenna Kanu from the onset. Desire Oparanozie is also waiting on the wings for action in the game.
Victory in this game will rank the Class of 2023 as the most successful Senior Women National Team of Nigeria, as the squad would have achieved a first-ever knock-out stage win at football’s highest platform.
When the Class of 1999 reached the quarterfinals in the United States, the tournament was a 16-team event and they made the last eight straight from the group phase, following wins over North Korea and Denmark. Following the expansion to 24 teams, before this 32-team format, a team must negotiate a Round of 16 to reach the quarterfinals.