The Nigerian Women’s National Team have long dominated women’s soccer on the continent of Africa, winning 9 out of the 11 total Women’s Africa Cup of Nations, but that success hasn’t translated to the global stage where the team has something of a reputation for underachieving, having been unable to make it out of the group stages of the tournament since 1999, as previously reported by The Guardian. While Cameroon and South Africa have begun to close in on the Nigerian women, as the funding issues that have plagued the team since the beginning may have finally outweighed the talent, the national team still managed to secure the 2018 edition of the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations and will be bringing some global stars to the World Cup.
Feeling the pressure of criticism from the public and its players, the Nigerian Football Federation hired manager Thomas Dennerby, who had previously taken Sweden to third place in the 2011 World Cup, to lead the women. After not playing a match since the final game of the 2016 edition of the Women’s Africa Cup of Nation, the Nigerian national team was quite active, competing in the Meizhou Four Nation Tournament and Cyprus Cup along with holding a friendly against Canada. While they were competitive in the run-up, with one of the toughest groups in the tournament it appears unlikely from the outset that Nigeria will finally build on their continental success.
Still, Dennerby will be getting the most from his squad as they go against Norway, South Korea, and France (who defeated Nigeria 8-0 during a 2018 friendly) and while the hosts may be a difficult task, Nigeria performing at it’s highest ability isn’t far behind its other rivals.
If the Nigerian women hope to make it out of their group, they will have to depend on superstar Asisat Oshoala. The forward is one of the most decorated players in the world, having picked up the 2014 Fifa Under-20 Golden Ball and Golden Boot along with three African Women’s Footballer of the Year awards over the course of her flourishing career that has taken her from Liverpool to Arsenal to China to Barcelona, who she led to this year’s Champion’s League final. Oshoala possesses a unique mix of pace and power that perfectly suits Dennerby’s style of play. She will be joined in Nigeria’s fast-paced attacking system by players such as Rasheedat Ajibade and Francisca Ordega up top, while Rita Chikwelu and Halimatu Ayinde will be depended upon in the midfield to be the balance between defense and attack. While Nigeria was one of the strongest teams defensively during the 2018 Women’s African Cup of Nation, recent friendlies have exposed some flaws in the backline. While they will be entering the tournament in France as underdogs, there is no doubt that they will bring a high level of competitiveness and won’t be an easy match for anyone.