US-based Super Falcons striker Uchenna Kanu talks about her experience at the ongoing Women’s World Cup, the team’s chances and more, in this interview with ‘TANA AIYEJINA

This is your second World Cup. How do you relish the opportunity?

Yeah it’s my second World Cup and I’m super grateful and thankful for the opportunity given to me to represent not just myself, my family, but over 200 million Nigerians.  I’m super grateful for being on this list to represent them all and you know the last World Cup was my first time and I was part of the team that set a record, a round of 16 record. I’m grateful to be part of this team again and hopefully we will not only equal that record but break it as well. So, I’m honoured and excited.

Looking back, do you think the Falcons could have managed a win against Canada?

I think we’ve grown as a group. As individuals, we’ve grown as well. When it comes to playing top teams like Canada, judging from our last games against Canada,  I think we’ve really grown.  And, you know, on that day,  we had a couple of chances that we could have scored, but regardless, it was a really great game for the group and for us as individuals. We were really happy with the way we played and the result that we got. So, I think it was a really great game, regardless of the result or how much we could have scored.  So, I think we just want to focus on the positive part of the game, stay positive and build from that.

You came on for Francisca Ordega with 17 minutes left in the opener against Canada? What was going through your mind when you were going onto the pitch?

When I got subbed on in the second half against Canada, not a lot was really going through my mind.  I was just focusing on the game plan, trying to enjoy myself and of course play to the best of my ability. I didn’t really pay attention to the pressure and tension at the time, so, I was just trying to be myself. I was trying to get in there and do my best, do what I know how to do best and of course help as much as I can to defend. Even if we didn’t score, we were supposed to at least defend, so that we don’t concede. I was focusing on just enjoying myself and defend and help the team as much as I can to secure at least the point that we were fighting for in the last minutes of the game. So, it was a positive mindset for me getting in.

How are you looking forward to the game against co-hosts Australia on Thursday?

Again, we had a really great game in the opener and I think if we can just take the same energy into the next game against Australia, I think we’re going to come out with a result as well. So, I’m positive and I believe the team is ready and we’ve been working hard to stay focused both on and off the field and focus on the game plan and be professionals and move on to the next game. I think it’s going to be a tough game as well, but regardless, I trust my girls and I think we’ve been working really hard to get something out of that game as well. The energy is really high and positive, yeah, I’m excited.

What do you think are the chances of the Falcons getting a positive result against the co-hosts?

We are positive as a group and as individuals, we’ve been working really hard. Our training sessions have been really great.  We’ve been doing well, working hard for each other and I think on that day (versus Australia) it’s going to be good.  It’s going to be a good game and I think we are staying positive and focusing on the game plan. Obviously it’s not going to be an easy game, but  we are prepared and working hard for each other as well. So, we are just going to take the energy from the last game into this game. I think we’re going to come up with a positive result. So, I trust my girls and I believe in each one of us. And we are ready.

Pictures showed an emotional you celebrating with Chiamaka Nnadozie after she caught the penalty against Canada. Were you confident she was going to save it?

Chiamaka is like one of the best goalkeepers in the world.  She’s special. I believe so much in her and I know the team trusts her as well. You know, on that day (against Canada), to be honest, I wasn’t expecting her to save the penalty.  I know we all trust her.  We all believe in her.  But, you know, it’s a penalty kick. You know, most of the time, it’s going to be a goal, so, that day she saved it and it was a shock to the whole world. I wasn’t surprised though, because she’s a good goalkeeper and whenever she’s in goal,  I’m always confident.  She proved the whole world wrong, you know, that she could be the best goalkeeper. So, I believe in her and I know that she’s good and I know that she’s trusted by everyone on the team. Just looking at that picture, I think it’s emotional because she made everyone proud and she increased the level of confidence that we have in her. So, I think it was okay for her to be emotional and that’s exactly what I was telling her in the picture, ‘It’s okay to cry because you are the best, we are proud of you and you made everyone proud right now.’ I was just telling her things like that when she was crying.  That’s the photo that you’re talking about.  And yeah, I believe so much in her, she’s one of a kind. She’s a special goalkeeper and I’m glad I got to play with her. I’m glad she’s my teammate and I love her.

This is your second World Cup, will it be fulfilling for you, if you grab a goal?

Coming into the World Cup, my goal was to embrace the opportunity and grace it with everything that I’ve got and of course, enjoy every moment, spend quality time with my teammates, you know.  Of course, if I get a goal in this tournament,  I think it will be the biggest thing for me. It would be a dream come true because obviously it’s the biggest stage of my career and it would mean so much for me to get a goal here in this tournament. And I won’t stop working hard to get a goal here. It would mean so much and I look forward to that day, I’m already excited. I can’t imagine myself getting a goal in this tournament.  I’ll be going crazy, it will be a dream come true.

Has the weather Down Under been conducive to the team?

I think the weather has been really great and sometimes it’s a bit chilly, especially now that we are starting to train at night because our next couple of games are going to be at night. So, we’ve been training at night and it’s been a little chilly but I don’t feel like the weather has been a problem for us. So, we are really doing well when it comes to managing the weather and managing ourselves and our bodies and everything, the weather is never a problem. I think it’s not going to stop us from playing the way that we do or playing the way that we want to play and working hard to get the result that we hope to get.

The Falcons are the only African side yet to lose at the tournament, is this an indication that the game in Africa isn’t moving at same pace with other parts of the world?

We are the only African team that hasn’t lost in the tournament and I’m proud of my team, in terms of how far we’ve gotten and how we’ve worked together to be where we are right now. I don’t think it’s anything to do with the preparation in Africa. I just feel like it’s a game of soccer, anything can happen and I don’t think any team has played badly. Watching South Africa, how they started (against Sweden), they really played well and they got the first goal in the game. But you know, things happen and game changes and they lost the game. It doesn’t mean they are bad side, it doesn’t mean that they haven’t prepared well. It just means that it’s a game of soccer, either you win, lose or you draw. So, it happened that they lost and that’s not the end. They still have more games ahead of them, same thing goes to other teams and our team as well. Everyone just needs to do what they need to do and play as hard as they can to get points during this stage. You know, the group stage is the toughest part of the tournament, fighting hard to get out of the group. I think everyone has their own way of preparing and how they’ve chosen to play. So, it’s not a case of how they prepared or where they’re playing in Africa, it doesn’t have anything to do with the way they’re playing or the way anyone is playing.

How far do you think Falcons can go, bearing in mind other matches that have been played at the tournament?

In the previous World Cup,  we made it to the Round of 16 and I believe we’ve grown as a group and as individuals.  I believe our goal is to not just get to the Round of 16, but to break that record as well, so we’re focusing on one game at a time. It’s important that we take it one game at a time and just go from there and just believe that we will get through, you know, to whenever or wherever we get to.  It doesn’t matter.  We’re just focusing right now to taking it one game at a time and see where it goes.

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