Two-time runners-up and one-time semi-finalists in Nigeria are upbeat about scooping the three points when they go up against one of Europe’s top teams, France in the opening match of Group C of this year’s FIFA U20 Women’s World Cup finals in San Jose on Thursday night.
Head Coach Christopher Danjuma minces no words about his faith in the high-scoring Falconets delivering on Thursday and afterward: “The World Cup stage is about players’ mentality; we have prepared the team very well in that area. You have to go out there, aim to be the best, and work hard to be the best. It is no picnic. I believe that these girls will do Nigeria proud.
“Playing seven matches in the African qualifying series toughened the team very well, and we have also worked on their psyche. Nigeria has never been an also-ran at this level. Having reached the Final twice and made the semi-finals once, the Falconets have pedigree in this championship. We cannot afford to falter. We will take it one match at a time, beginning with the game against France.”
Danjuma, who also led the team to the last tournament in France four years ago, where they lost narrowly to Spain (1-2) in the quarter-finals, is banking on the experience of the captain and central defender Oluwatosin Demehin, the lively midfield orchestra of Esther Onyenezide, Deborah Abiodun and Adoo Yina, and the ever-potent forward line of Flourish Sabastine, Mercy Idoko and Joy Jerry.
First choice Monle Oyono is expected to be in goal against the French side, with wingbacks Omowunmi Oshobukola and Jumoke Alani also favored to retain their places.
In the African qualifying series, the rampant Falconets hit 11 goals past the hapless Central African Republic in the second round, and spanked the Republic of Congo 4-0 in Brazzaville –with the consequence that the Congolese failed to turn up for the return leg in Nigeria – and then routed Cameroon 3-0 on aggregate in the fourth round. The final qualifying fixture against Senegal was effectively over after Flourish Sabastine hit a hat-trick away in Thies before the home team got a consolation goal from the spot late in the game.
On Thursday, Danjuma will be goading his girls to summon every sinew of strength, skill, and savvy in them to overpower France and collect three points that will stabilize their campaign and empower their quest to go all the way.
“It will not be easy but we have what is known as the special ‘Nigeria spirit’ and we will go in there with confidence and belief in what we can do. We will play to our strengths – firm at the back and clinical at the fore.”
FALCONETS’ GROUP C GAMES
Vs France – Thursday, 11th August – Estadio Nacional – 12 midnight
Vs Korea Republic – Sunday, 14th August – Estadio Alejandro Morera Soto – 9 pm
Vs Canada – Thursday, 18th August – Estadio Alejandro Morera Soto – 3 am
ALL THE GROUPS
GROUP A: Costa Rica, Australia, Spain, Brazil
GROUP B: Germany, Colombia, New Zealand, Mexico
GROUP C: France, Nigeria, Canada, Korea Republic
GROUP D: Japan, The Netherlands, Ghana, USA