Echoes From Past, As Falcons Face Sweden Again

Super FalconsIf past encounters between the Super Falcons and their Scandinavian counterparts, Sweden, should count, Nigerian soccer fans have every reason to worry, as the two teams square up once again tomorrow.

The Canada 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup began yesterday, but the Falcons and their Swedes counterparts will begin their campaign in Group D here in the city of Winnipeg.

“The first match in every competition is quite key, and I expect the Falcons to get a good result against Sweden this time because a defeat might not be good for Nigeria,” former Super Falcons coach, Godwin Izilien, told The Guardian in a telephone conversation yesterday.

“But I am very optimistic that our girls will give the Swedes a good fight this time. Getting a victory in this game will surely boost their morale in this competition,” he said.

The seven-time African champions, Falcons, will square up against Sweden in one of the opening games in Group D. Nigeria’s next two matches are against Australia and the United States of America. All past encounters between the two teams from 2003 till date have gone the way of the Swedes.

At the 2007 edition of the championship held in China, the Falcons, led by late coach Ntiero Effiong, were dispatched by Sweden 2-0 in one of their group games in the city of Chengdu. Before then, the Swedes, who are among the top teams in women’s football, had dealt a blow on the Super Falcons twice, first at USA 2003 World Cup, where they won 3-0, and at Athens 2004 Olympics Games Women’s football event, which ended 2-1 in favour of Sweden.

Coach Izilien was in-charge of the Super Falcons when they won the African Women Championship title in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2006.

To him the crop of players in the present Super Falcons have what it takes to turn the table against the Swedes in tomorrow’s game.

“The Super Falcons have grown from strength to strength over the years, and I am so optimistic something positive will come our way this time,” Izilien said.

“The greatest motivation for the Falcons in this World Cup will be the BBC Woman Footballer of the Year award conferred on our own Asisat Oshoala recently.

“Though the preparation of the Super Falcons for this World Cup may not be fantastic, the quality of players in the squad gives me confidence that we can do it right. Most of our players are exposed now, playing for big clubs abroad unlike the situation in the past.

I think our team stands a chance of surpassing that quarterfinal performance at USA ’99, if they can beat Sweden,” Izilien said. One major thing that might count against the Swedes in tomorrow’s game is their slow start at every tournament.

The Scandinavians have suffered defeats in each of their FIFA Women’s World Cup openers to date, a record that should give Coach Edwin Okon and his girls a ray of hope.

With Australia and USA also lurking, Group D is widely considered as one of the tournament’s most formidable pools and Nigeria and Sweden know that defeat would be costly to their hopes of qualifying for the second round.

A win for the Falcons would provide the perfect platform on which to build against Australia and USA. Sweden finished top in the UEFA Group Four qualifying series, scoring 32 goals and conceding one.

Just like the Super Falcons, Sweden has appeared in all previous FIFA Women’s World Cup, with their best being its second place finish at USA 2003 edition. Sweden strength lies on its coach, Pia Sundgae, who once coached the American team.

Australia on their part, finished second in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) women’s cup. It has appeared six times in the Women FIFA World Cup, with its best finish being at the China 2007 edition, where it placed 7th.

And like the Super Falcon, who had dominated Africa football from 1998, the Australian team won the Oceania Women Championship three times in 1995, 1998 and 2003 (before moving to AFC in 2006). Perhaps, the biggest contender in this group is USA, who is the number one ranked team in the world.

The USA officially clinched a spot in this year’s World Cup with a 3-0 semifinal victory against Mexico during the 2014 CONCACAF Women’s Championship.

It capped off qualifying with a 6-0 win against Costa Rica in the title game in October last year, led by four goals from Wambach.

Like the Falcons, the USA team is one of seven countries to appear in all seven editions of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, the others being Brazil, Germany, Japan, Nigeria, Norway and Sweden.

The two times winners, has reached the final three times. As it was at China 2007, where Nigeria and USA clashed in the last group game in the city of Shanghai, so it will be this time in the Canadian city of Vancouver next week.

Their encounter in 2007 ended goalless despite the fact that the Nigerian girls embarked on strike for two days to press home their demand for increase in wages.

Threatening as the records of the United States and others may look, coach Izilien and other Nigerians believe the Falcons is capable of holding its own in this tournament.

This belief is premised on the depth of the team with the likes of golden girl, Asisat Oshoala, Desire Oparanozie, Courtney Dike, Perpetua Nkwocha, Evelyn Nwabuoku, Francesca Ordega and some exceptionally skilled local league players drawn from Rivers Angels, Delta Queens, Ibom Angels and Nasarawa Amazons.

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