Nigeria’s World Cup stars have been left delighted following the qualifications of Nigeria, South Africa and Morocco to the round of 16 of the ongoing Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, Saturday PUNCH reports.
The Falcons played a goalless draw against Ireland to finish second in Group B with five points behind co-hosts Australia, while Banyana Banyana also finished second behind Sweden in a group that had Italy and Argentina crashing out.
On Thursday, Morocco joined them in the round of 16 after beating Colombia 1-0 in their last group match at the Perth Rectangular Stadium.
It is the second win for the Moroccans at the Mundial, after they defeated Korea Republic 1-0 on match-day two.
The victory means it is the first time an African team will win two games at the Women’s World Cup since Nigeria’s Super Falcons achieved the feat in 1999 and also the first time that the continent will have three representatives in the knockout stage.
Speaking with Saturday PUNCH, Maureen Mmadu, who featured at four different World Cups, was elated, saying African football had come of age.
“When the Falcons were about to leave for the tournament, I got a call from some people asking me if the crisis between the Falcons coach and the Nigeria Football Federation would not affect the team but I said the players were professionals and would not pay attention to the crisis. They also know that millions of Nigerians are looking up to them. Getting to the round of 16 is a very good one for them and I am sure they can build on that,” Mmadu stated.
“I am not surprised by Morocco’s performance at the World Cup because I was on a training tour there with my academy and I saw the facilities there and I told myself that they stood a chance at the World Cup. I see them going very far at the tournament.”
Another ex-Falcons star Stella Mbachu added, “I am very happy and equally surprised that we have three African teams in the round of 16.
“I’m excited because it shows that we stand a chance at the World Cup and it came as a big surprise that Morocco, who are debutants, defeated Colombia and finished second in their group, ahead of Germany and South Korea.
“African football has come of age and it is growing. Look at the Zambians, they fought really hard and I can say they are a solid team. On how far the teams can go, I will suggest that we take it one step at a time and remain focused, but I am sure that they will do well.”
Ex-Super Eagles left-back, Ifeanyi Udeze, believes that an African team stands a chance of winning the tournament, following their superb group performances.
“Countries like South Africa and Morocco have proven that they are up there with the Europeans, I can’t say the same of Nigeria, but our players on their own are willing to go out and make themselves and the country proud.
“Following their performance at the ongoing World Cup, I think I can say that the African countries can raise their shoulders high. When you look at the men’s World Cup in Qatar last year, you will remember that Morocco got to the semis and now we have three African teams in the round of 16, so it is safe to say we have the bragging rights now.
“This World Cup is quite different from the previous editions and we’ve seen top countries eliminated already. Countries like Germany, Italy have crashed out and the smaller ones are stepping up and I can say that it is very open.”
The Banyana will hope to lead the way and make it to the quarter-finals when they battle The Netherlands on Sunday, while Falcons battle England the following day.
Debutants Morocco have a tough date with 2019 hosts France on Tuesday.