World Cup Jinx: Falcons Coach Prays For Divine Intervention
• US-based Ordega Vows To Shoot Down Americans
With the elimination of one of the pre-championship favourites, the Flying Eagles, from the on-going FIFA U-20 World Cup in New Zealand, the focus of all football-loving Nigerians have shifted to Canada, where the Super Falcons are battling to keep the nation’s flag flying.
But there seems to be one major hurdle for the girls, a 16-year-old jinx of not qualifying from the group stage, which the team’s handler, Coach Edwin Okon, is seeking divine intervention to overcome.
Before the team stepped out for its second group D game against Australia yesterday at the Winnipeg Stadium, Coach Okon made what appears to be a covenant with God: “Lord, we came to this competition with a promise to Nigerians that we will do all we can to surpass that quarterfinal mark of USA ‘99. We believe so much in You Lord, do not let us down in this race.
You did it for us by guiding us from a 0-2 to draw 3-3 against Sweden in our first game on Monday. We are grateful. Our Father, the task ahead of us is much, but with you on our side, everything is possible.”
The Falcons have participated in every edition of the World Cup from the inaugural championship in China ’91, through Sweden ’95, USA ’99, USA 2003, China 2007 and Germany 2011. But their best has not been good enough, as Nigeria has never reached the semifinal of the competition, not to talk of featuring in the final.
Their best moment in the championship remains the second round appearance at USA ‘99, where the Coach Ismalia Mabo-led team lost the semifinal ticket to Brazil in what remains a talking point in the game of women football till date.
At that year’s edition of the championship, the Falcons captained by Florence Omagbemi were pitched against the host, USA, Korea DPR and Denmark.
The Nigerians began brightly by beating the fast moving Koreans 2-1, but went down 1-7 to the Yankees (USA) in their second group game. With determination and the never-say-die spirit, the Falcons rose to the occasion in the third game, winning 2-0 against Denmark at Jack Kent Cook Stadium, Washington DC, a victory, which took them to the second round, which they lost to Brazil 3-4 at extra time after the Nigerians came from a 0-3 deficit to level at 3-3.
That was 16 years ago, when the Women’s World Cup featured 16 countries. Since then, the Super Falcons and indeed, other African teams have not gotten near the quarterfinal stage in the championship.
It took the Super Falcons 12 years before they could secure victory in the World Cup, a 1-0 win against Canada in the German city of Dresden, during the last edition of the championship in 2011.
The Falcons have a date to keep with ‘lions’ on the pitch, USA, on Tuesday in Vancouver, and Coach Okon feels that qualification to the next stage is possible.
“We have taken our time to watch the video clips of virtually all the teams participating in this competition and we have come to realise that the Falcons have the best quality to be in the final.
And our determination is to make good use of this opportunity, break that 16-year-old jinx and lift the trophy. Who says Nigeria can’t win the World Cup? But as I said, we need God’s favour to do it,” he said.
While Okon is seeking God’s favour to break the World Cup jinx here in Canada, one of the team’s strikers, Francisca Ordega, who plies her soccer trade in Washington DC, says their last group game against the Americans in Vancouver on Tuesday will go the way of the Falcons.
“I don’t see USA beating us in Vancouver, a confident Ordega said. “I am in the same club with two of their players, and I know what they can do. We will cage them.”
Nigeria and USA’s first encounter at senior level was at USA ‘99, where the Nigerians suffered a humiliating 7-1 defeat at the Soldier Field Stadium in Chicago.
Their second encounter, which took place at Sydney 2000 Olympics Games football event, also ended 3-1 in favour of the Americans in the city of Melbourne.
Their last meeting at competitive level was at China 2007 edition of the World Cup, where the Americans had a slim 1-0 victory against the Falcons led by the late Coach Ntiero Effiong in the city of Shanghai. To Okon and the ‘Bulldozer’ Ordega, the Americans will meet a different Super Falcons come Tuesday in Vancouver.