Nigeria coach Randy Waldrum is looking beyond winning the 2022 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations, which begins in Morocco on July 2, with qualification for the 2023 World Cup more important to him.
The Super Falcons begin their campaign on July 4 against South Africa, whom they coincidentally met in their opening match of the last tournament in Ghana in 2018 before beating them in the final, then take on Botswana three days later and end the group phase against Burundi on July 10.
With Nigeria favourites to win a fourth straight and record-extending 10th title, Waldrum sees the tournament more of a World Cup qualifier than a championship.
“World Cup qualification has always been the goal as much as we want to win the championship,” said Waldrum about next year’s global tournament set to be held in Australia and New Zealand.
The biennial tournament serves as a World Cup qualifier where the top four teams directly seal their ticket while two more advances to the inter-confederation playoffs.
This being his first tournament since taking over the Falcons in 2020, the American tactician feels they have had good preparations which will put them in good stead.
“I think we have prepared well. The one difficult we had is that I never felt we had our entire best team together. I’m little concerned we haven’t had the best team together over the year but it gave me an opportunity to look at a lot of young players to bring into the team,” he added.
“We have found some new blood with players like Ifeoma [Onumonu], Esther [Okoronkwo] unfortunately, is injured and won’t be participating.
"But young players like Vivian [Ikechukwu] that we brought into the team she’s playing extremely well, so we feel like we’ve got a lot of good options. Gift Monday is coming off a good season.
"Having Asisat [Oshoala] back healthy is a big plus. I’m excited about the young player [Chinonyerem] Macleans playing in Poland right now.”
Waldrum thinks the good mix of youth and experience, especially in attack, gives him plenty of options for some tactical tweaks whenever he deems it fit.
“We have a lot of players that can interchange. Rasheedat [Ajibade] for example, has been playing in midfield for us but we can play her upfront if we need, Toni Payne is the same so, I think we have really good attacking qualities in our team,” said the former University of Pittsburg coach.
With three-time Africa Player of the Year Oshoala fit and firing again, Nigeria are hot favourites with South Africa tipped to push them to the end yet again.