Ahead of their ninth appearance at the FIFA Women’s World Cup, which kicks off July 20 in Australia and New Zealand, the Super Falcons are setting their sights on surpassing their previous achievements at the tournament after touching down at their base in Australia, PUNCH Sports Extra reports.
Nigeria is yet to miss any edition of the tournament since it began in 1991, but the farthest they have gone in the competition was the quarter-finals at the 1999 edition in the United States.
Despite dominating the African continent with 11 WAFCON titles, the team is yet to make it count at the world level, only reaching the last 16 of the World Cup in 2019, after being dumped out in the group stages before 1999 and after.
Although not without controversies, the Falcons head to Australia and New Zealand with some prolific names in their squad as they face Olympic champions Canada, co-hosts Australia and Republic of Ireland in the group stage.
Their bragging rights in Africa have also been misplaced recently after they disappointingly finished fourth at the last WAFCON in Morocco 2022.
Captain Onome Ebi, who will be making a record sixth appearance at the World Cup, says the team is out to surpass their round 16 ouster at the 2019 edition in France.
“We have to do better than what we did at the last World Cup, regardless of whoever we play against,” the 40-year-old defender said.
“The goal is to make sure we do better than the previous appearances. We are not going to the World Cup to get beaten and go home, to get past the round 16 is what we are working towards. Nigeria as a whole is really looking forward to that,” she added.
Barcelona Feminine forward and five-time African Player of the Year award winner, Asisat Oshoala is also determined to translate her club performance to the national team.
“Big stage, big moment, there is no small stage for me. I’m just a girl who loves football.”
Atletico Madrid Feminine forward, Rasheedat Ajibade, whose goal against Cameroon in the quarter-finals of the 2022 WAFCON sealed Nigeria’s spot at the expanded World Cup also believes in the ability of the Falcons to reach their target as a bunch.
“In France, it was amazing and I felt every moment of the competition. I saw amazing players who did unbelievable things and I felt I could do it too. We’ve got Asisat Oshoala on our team, we have Onome Ebi, and other great players in the team. We are playing as a team and we will win as a team,” Ajibade said.
However, the former African champions have been in the news in recent weeks after their preparations for the World Cup were marred by a last minute cancellation of camping in Abuja – earlier billed to begin June 20 – by the Nigeria Football Federation.
The 23-woman squad instead travelled straight to Australia on Tuesday to kickstart their preparations.
Head coach Randy Waldrum also came under scathing criticisms after excluding mercurial midfielder Ngozi Okobi-Okeoghene from the traveling party, but retained Deborah Abiodun, whom it was learnt had been struggling with a niggling knee injury.
US-based duo Iffy Onumonu and Jennifer Echegini, who made the squad, are also nursing injuries, it was learnt.
But despite the controversy his list has generated and the hitch in preparations, Waldrum is confident of a fine outing by his side in Australia and New Zealand.
The American told PUNCH Sports Extra, “I like the squad we’ve put together and the last few camps we’ve had, they’ve been coming around. My only concern is not having the time to camp in Nigeria for three weeks.
“But I love the group and they are going to represent Nigeria very well.
The Falcons will begin their quest against Canada on July 21 followed by Australia six days later and Republic of Ireland on July 31.
It’s the first time the Women’s World Cup will feature 32 teams and will also be co-hosted.