With the 2014 Fifa U-20 Women's World Cup up and running, Goal Nigeria explores the vast hopes and nerve-racking fears for the country at the football tournament in Canada
By Samuel Ahmadu
Nigerians will certainly be optimistic for the 2014 U-20 Women's World Cup, despite the challenge ahead of the Falconets.
The success at Germany 2010 in the midst of a transitional crisis still remains fresh in the memory of many after they reached the final. Four years later, the country’s football family was yet again plunged into a similar situation, with the administrative crisis which stakeholders feared may dim hopes of success, to say the least among our troubles.
The country's brightness is mixed with doubts, however there is still hope that Nigeria will have a very successful campaign at Canada 2014, beating the 2010 record, by winning the trophy.
Big Dreams for the Falconets in Canada
The Falconets come into the competition focusing on one goal, the trophy. After the country’s exploits in 2010, there is optimism that the national side can go one better.
Peter Dedevbo has had a full preparatory time since start of the qualifiers - he has brought in some good players, particularly from abroad, to help strengthen the squad for the contest in Canada.
In qualification, the Falconets defeated Sierra Leone 16-0, Tunisia 8-0, and South Africa 7-0 to ensure their omnipresence at the U-20 Women’s World Cup.
US-based forward Courtney Dike has adapted immediately to the demands of international football and has scored four goals in just two warm-up games.
In build-up to the tournament there have been four friendly matches against Ghana’s U-20 women’s team, with Nigeria winning two, drawing one and losing another The team also played against Sunshine Queens of Akure, State House Queens and Idoh Academy Abuja among others.
There have also been two warm-up games in Canada, against Codaic U-16 and U-18 boys, they recorded victories in both matches, with 4-3 and 4-1 scorelines respectively.
After an impressive run in qualifiers, the only notable missing starter from Japan 2012 squad is Fasilat Adeyemo in defence. Ugo Njoku’s presence alongside Mariam Ibrahim would provide good cover and great combination if both were selected to play.
First choice goalkeeper Chiichii Sandra looks to be at her best after she failed to concede a goal throughout the qualifiers.
All eyes on Peter Dedevbo in Canada
The depth of individual quality in the present Falconets amplifies the notion that they will flourish. Despite the fringe friendly games, Dedevbo looks without any worries as per his starting 11.
Their relative experience and domination of the continent puts Nigeria far ahead of their contemporaries. Asisat Oshoala, Sunday Uchechi, and Dike are players with consistency and form to watch out for in Canada.
The fame of Desire Oparanozie and Francisca Ordega at Japan 2012, the deadly two-pronged of Oshoala and Sunday are joined by budding national team prospect Chiwendu Ihezuo, as well as Costa Rica 2014 Fifa U-17 World Cup goal-scoring heroine Uchenna Kanu. Both have the ability to terrorise defences and both look like great prospects in attack.
Uchechi, in particular, looks special. She has a great delivery, pace and looks like a good set-piece taker.
Hopefully Nigeria will benefit from a fit-again Mariam Ibrahim, she will fittingly fill the void created in defence by the absence of Fasilat Adeyemo, and should forge a formidable partnership with Ugo Njoku.
A good start is key, while the competition is a six-match race to final, getting off to a good start is vital and consistency is required to go far.
Nigeria's biggest fear is their trending decline.
With an inadequate preparation for the tournament - the chance of achieving something tangible lies hugely in the coach's ability to get the best our his star-studded squad. The Falconets’ biggest trouble could lie in coping with speed and pace, particularly considering the young, athletic options of teams such as Germany, Korea and USA in the competition.
This is a lesson demonstrated by the Flamingos, who crashed out following a 3-0 quarter-final defeat by Spain at the 2014 Costa Rica U-17 Women’s World Cup, having accrued nine points in the preliminaries.
It remains to be seen whether the previously untested Dike will adapt to tournament football.
Another fear, though one always neglected - is in the level of motivation of the women’s team and the poor attention they receive compared to their male counterparts.
Belief among the Falconets is a big factor – with pressure and the burden of doing better than last two editions at the World Cup still a serious monster to combat. Bear in mind that, to claim the coveted trophy, the side will likely need to beat the likes of Germany, USA and Japan.
Can the Falconets make a nation sing at the U-20 Women's World Cup?
The first two are both multiple winners and boast an established policy of finding and promoting young talent, setting them apart from their international rivals.
Nigeria boosts of talents at the grassroots level, but a lack of consistency as a result of the country’s poor scouting network, inadequate preparation and prejudiced selection policies affects performance
Keeping the players healthy with local meals instead of energy drinks as recalled in previous tournament could cost Nigeria.
The championship is an open tournament where tactics, strengths and techniques of teams and coaches will evidently be tested. Nigeria’s limited tactical exposure may well dim their chances.
The track record of Peter Dedevbo at leading the country to two international competitions is not great. He has twice failed to reach the last four. He is yet to prove himself and this may prove to be one of the key factors in the side’s fate in Canada.
No one knows what the future holds, but that's why Nigerians all love the beautiful game, the country must be fully behind the team and the challenge ahead. If they are, then the promise of success might not be too far away.