Nigeria’s female national team, the Falcons, have qualified for a ninth FIFA Women’s World Cup by virtue of their penalty win over Cameroon in the semi-final of the Africa Women’s Nations Cup, going on in Ghana.
But on the evidence of their displays in their four matches, they will be in France next year just to make up the numbers. Many people will say this is not a composite conclusion but the facts must supersede emotions.
Thomas Dennarby was hired by the Amaju Pinnick-led Nigeria Football Federation to improve the lot of the team. But the more we see, the more it looks the same [maybe even worse].
Here are five realisations we came to.
The team is aging but not changing
Age is a good thing in women’s football as players have great careers into their 40s; but in the Nigerian case, the players are aging but they don’t look to be changing for the better.
The starting 11 against Cameroon had an average age of 27, far below the median for teams to have won the World Cup and Olympic titles. A player like Desire Oparanozie is already attending a fourth AWCON tournament and has been a professional for seven years.
Good players but no team
From the goalkeeper, Tochukwu Oluehi, to Desire Oparanozie, the team is full of quality and experienced players.
This was not visible in the possession stats as the team was outplayed by the Lionesses.
With just 32 per cent of the possession, the play was disjointed, haphazard – not one befitting such an experienced group of players having grown through age-grade teams together.
The offensive dynamic is off
When the Falcons show up with Francisca Ordega, Desire Oparanozie, and Asisat Osoala, there should be goals and opponents are supposed to quake in their boots; but this triumvirate got no shot on target against Cameroon until the 54th minute.
You could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times these three players combined in the half of the Cameroonians.
And, that is not right.
With 40 goals amongst them in less than 100 appearances, there is clearly something wrong with this selection or the chemistry is just not right.
More and more like the Eagles
Just as it has become normal for the male national team, the Falcons started the game against Cameroon on Tuesday with all outfield players plying their trade outside the country.
The consequences for the local league is dire because every average player knows there is no future in the league at home and at the briefest window of opportunity, will exit for any foreign league where they will earn what they cannot, in the country.
Africa has caught up
It will be a pleasant surprise if the Falcons can get their pound of flesh against Banyana Banyana on Sunday.
Against Cameroon, the Nigerian ladies had a low percentage of possession and their pass accuracy was below the 50 per cent mark.
They also recorded just one corner kick, compared to the Lionesses’ four.
If the NFF does nothing to help this team, especially with quality friendly matches and improve the level of the local league, then the next AWCON could be a sickening eye opener.
But, it is not all doom and gloom because the team is going to France and they can celebrate. However, the future does not look too good, based on Tuesday’s antecedents.
After picking one of the three tickets to France, Dennarby said, “For now we celebrate and prepare for the final match on Saturday.
“We are happy that we have won the game and picked one of the three tickets to the FIFA Women’s World Cup. Like I said yesterday, now that we have that out of the way, the next target is retaining the trophy.”
But should that be enough for the eight-time champions?
Having conquered Africa over and over again, what the fans are demanding is a good showing on the world stage.