Never in the history of of the FIFA Women’s World Cup final has Nigeria finished top of the group in the preliminary stage.
But all that will change at the end of 90 minutes win or burst Group B decider between the Super Falcons of Nigeria and Republic of Ireland Green Girls when both countries clash at the Brisbane Stadium, Brisbane, Australia by 11.00 am Nigerian time.
This is even as the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup reaches its group-stage climax with the stage set for an electrifying final group matches in almost all the groups including Group B where none of the three top teams Nigeria and Canada on four points and co-host Australia with three points are not too sure of qualifying from the group till the end of the 90 minutes on Monday.
Interestingly, the epic encounter between Nigeria and Republic of Ireland at the iconic Brisbane Stadium presents the nine-time African champions, Nigeria the opportunity to make history as the first African country to finish top of the group in the preliminary stage of FIFA Women’s World Cup final.
Nigeria’s women national football team, the Super Falcons, created two records in 1999 by being the first African nation to win two games in the World Cup final and reached the quarter-final stage at the Mundial when the United States of America (USA) hosted the 3rd FIFA Women’s World Cup final.
In the 1999 edition, the Red-hot Super Falcons, fresh from emerging the Champions of the first African Women’s Championship (AWC) now called Women’s African Cup of Nations (WAFCON), a competition Nigeria won without conceding a single goal in five matches, took the world by surprise in America.
With the high energy the team used to conquer Africa under veteran Head Coach Ismaila Mabo, Nigeria in her first Group A match at the iconic
Rose Bowl, Pasadena in Los Angeles, California on July 20 defeated North Korea 2–1, courtesy of goals by striker Mercy Akide and winger Rita Nwadike in the 50′ and 79′ while Korea’s Jo Song scored in the 74′.
Although Nigeria was thrashed 7-1 by Team USA at Chicago’s Soldier Field in their second match even after the Yankees fell behind in the second minute by conceding a goal to Nkiru Okosieme after a defensive mistake, Super Falcons bounced back to reckoning in the last group match on June 27, 1999 at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium, Landover, Washington DC/ Maryland by beating Denmark 2–0 as goals from Mercy Akide (25′) and Nkiru Okosieme’ (81′) guaranteed Nigeria six points and quarter-final qualification.
Nigeria would have made it to the semi-final stage if not for the Golden Goal rule adopted by FIFA in the competition which helped Brazil to edge out Nigeria 4-3 at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium, Landover courtesy of Brazil’s star midfielder Sissi, who scored the Golden Goal from 20 meters range in the 104′ to win the match for Brazil.
The full and extra-time scores had ended 3-3, forcing a sudden death extra time, which Nigeria would play with only 10 players after forward Patience Avre was ejected in the 87′ minute for receiving a second yellow card.
However, Nigeria’s performance in the subsequent World Cup outings have been anything but impressive with 2003 edition also held in USA the worst as the Nigerian team under Head Samuel Okpodu lost all three group matches by 3-1 respectively. Nigeria did not do better in the four subsequent editions too.
But the immediate former Super Falcons Head Coach, Thomas Dennerby who drafted junior internationals defender Glory Ogbonna, attacking midfielder Rasheedat Ajibade and reliable goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie into the senior cadre prior to the 2018 WAFCON in Ghana, a competition Nigeria won, restored some respect when he took Nigeria to the Round of 16 in 2019 edition in France.
Meanwhile, with the Group B decider on the horizon, Nigeria is on the march again to equal the 1999 records of winning two games and create another one by not losing a group match and finishing top of the group in 2023.
This will be enough motivation for the Randy Waldrum’s team to go all out against the “dispirited” Irish team that had already been eliminated from the ongoing FIFA Women’s World Cup after loses to Australia and Canada respectively.
But both Nigeria and Republic of Ireland are primed to script their destinies in football history, although the Super Falcons’ impressive journey so far have surprised many in Nigeria as the Super Falcons have displayed unwavering prowess on the pitch like the Class of 1999.
As the group leaders, they have secured four points from their first two games, same as Canada while the
Girls in Green are pointless after two matches. Nigeria opened her account in the tournament with a goalless draw against reigning Olympic champions Canada, ranked 8th on the FIFA ranking.
But the defining moment came when the Super Falcons in the spirit of never-say die of Nigerians, shocked the world with a breathtaking 3-2 victory over 10th-ranked Australia, propelling them closer to the knockout stage of the World Cup.
This impressive result has made Nigerians and their team to believe that they may even go all the way in the first-ever 32-team competition, using the encounter against the Girls in Green on Monday to prove that the victory over Australia was not a fluke after all.
Indeed, the Africans have talents, experience and exposure to hurt any team on a good day even as the American gaffer who is also the current Head Coach of University of Pittsburgh Panthers women’s soccer club now knows his players well enough to use them in the right positions.
It means that he will adopt his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation which will see him rely on Chiamaka Nnadozie in goal while Mitchelle Alozie, Tosin Demehin, Osinachi Ohale and Ashley Plumptre will be the back four just as Christy Ucheibe and Ajibade will hold down the midfield for Nigeria.
Hard-working Toni Payne, Uchenna Kanu and Ifeoma Onumonu will also be deployed to operate in dual capacity while Asisat Oshoala may likely start if she has fully recovered from a knock.
However, Nigeria will have to make do without midfielder Deborah Abiodun, who faces suspension after being red-carded against Canada while midfielder Halimatu Ayinde who is a big doubt due to an injury raises the stakes even higher for Nigeria but the Super Falcons can grind out a good result against the Irish Girls in Green.
In a contrasting tale of destiny, the Republic of Ireland find themselves on a quest for pride as they have exited the tournament as earlier mentioned and with few injury doubts including an important player,
Heather Payne who faces uncertainty due to a slight hamstring tweak, it will be an uphill task for the Irish to beat the Super Falcons.
However, they intend to end their maiden World Cup journey on a high note by overcoming the most successful African women team in history.This is the first meeting between Nigeria and the Republic of Ireland at the World Cup.