June 18, 2011

Group A Preview: Nigeria

Region: CAF
Coach: Ngozi Uche
How They Qualified: Won CAF Qualifying
Prior Cups:
2007: Group Stage
2003: Group Stage
1999: Lost in Quarterfinals
1995: Group Stage
1991: Group Stage

Returnees from 2007 World Cup: (9) Dede, Nkwocha, Mbachu, Chikwelu, Ikidi, Jerome, Oluehi, Ebi, Chukwudi.

Roster (Average Age: 22.74)
Precious DedeGKRiver Angels3170/0
Alaba JonathanGKPelican Stars190/0
Tochukwu OluehiGKSunshine Queens2440/0
Josephine ChukwunonyeDFRiver Angels1910/0
Onome EbiDFDuvenciler Lisesi2845/0
Faith IkidiDFPitea2447/0
Ulunma JeromeDFPitea2337/0
Osinachi OhaleDFDelta Queens199/0
Helen UkaonuDFSunnana2011/1
Rita ChikweluMFUmea2337/16
Ogonna ChukwudiMFUmea2212/0
Glory IrokaMFRiver Angels218/0
Rebecca KaluMFRiver Angels211/0
Perpetua NkwochaMFSunnana3580/40
Ebere OrjiMFRiver Angels1813/2
Amenze AighewiFWRiver Angels193/0
Stella MbachuFWRiver Angels3385/20
Sarah MichaelFWOrebro DFF206/0
Desire OparanozieFWDelta Queens1712/6
Francisca OrdegaFWBayelsa Queens179/1
Uchechi SundayFWNeunkirch160/0

Recent Matches:
6/16/11SlovakiaFriendlyT 2-2
6/8/11AustriaFriendlyT 1-1
6/3/11Czech RepublicFriendlyW 1-0
5/16/11GhanaAll-AfricaL 1-2
5/1/11GhanaAll-AfricaT 1-1
4/16/11NamibiaOlympic QualifierW 2-0
4/4/11NamibiaOlympic QualifierW 7-0
11/25/10GermanyFriendlyL 0-8
11/14/10Equatorial GuineaCAF ChampionshipW 4-2
11/11/10CameroonCAF ChampionshipW 5-1
11/7/10TanzaniaCAF ChampionshipW 3-0
11/4/10South AfricaCAF ChampionshipW 2-1
11/1/10MaliCAF ChampionshipW 5-0
6/25/10Cote d’IvoireCAF QualifierW 3-1
5/23/10Cote d’IvoireCAF QualifierW 2-1

The Nigerians are one of seven teams that have qualified for all six World Cups. They have made it as far as the quarterfinals once, in 1999, when they lost to Brazil by a 4-3 margin. They have one of the deepest and proudest traditions in all of African women’s soccer.

Forward Stella Mbachu has played in the last three World Cups dating back to 1999. She, midfielder Perpetua Nkwocha, and goalkeeper Precious Dede have been constants for Nigeria for a decade. The team will look to their leadership when they face veteran squads from Germany, Canada, and France in Group A.

Nearly half the Nigerian team, nine players in all, are 20 years of age or younger. Eight of those players were on the U-20 team that finished second to Germany in the 2010 U-20 World Cup. These players proved their skill in that competition, but do they have the experience to make their mark in the 2011 World Cup?

One other common thread is that nine play their club soccer in other countries, seven in the Swedish Damallsvenskan. Nearly all are starters for their respective teams, including Faith Ikidi and Rita Chikwelu, two mainstays in the Nigerian lineup. Young Sarah Michael scored seven goals for Djurgarden in 2010.

Nkwocha scored 11 goals in the CAF Championships and is still Nigeria’s top gun at age 35. However, young forward Desire Oparanozie has been doing some scoring as well. She scored three in the CAF Championships, followed by a two goal game against Namibia in April. She is just 17 years old and a player to watch for the future.

Facing the tough opponents that they will, it may well come down to the goalkeeping of Dede to keep Nigeria in matches. She has the experience, but she will have to be at the top of her game if Nigeria has any chance of advancing past the group stage. In a match against Germany last fall, Nigeria surrendered eight goals. That kind of calamity cannot happen in this World Cup, where goal differential is important.

While Nigeria had very little trouble in the CAF Championships, which qualified them for the World Cup, they have stumbled a bit since then. First, there was the German match in November, which they played less than two weeks after the CAF, so that could be explained away. But the recent loss to Ghana in a two-match series for the All-Africa Games was very unexpected.

They have since played three non-qualifying European sides, posting a record of one win and two ties against the Czech Republic, Austria, and Slovakia. The teams they will be facing in Germany will be much stronger than those teams.

For Nigeria to advance, everything will have to fall right. Dede will have to be nearly perfect in goal, the veterans will have to hold the team together, and youngsters like Oparanozie are going to have to perform some magic. It will be a tough challenge for the Super Falcons and they may have to wait four years before they can truly soar.

Note: Some information for this article was obtained from www.fifa.com.