Nigeria were the first African nation to deliver a victory at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup (WWC) last week over co-hosts Australia and now look to be the only side from the continent capable of making it to the next round. South Africa faltered to a 2-2 draw with Argentina blowing a two goal lead but have a head-to-head with Italy to qualify while Morocco’s 1-0 win over South Korea only sets up a challenging final day showdown with Colombia to somehow scrape into the knock outs. Zambia have lost both games so far by quite a margin hence will be going home after their final game.
This victory is huge but has a dark cloud over it given the controversy around pay that almost saw the team go on strike for their opening match of the tournament. The Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) are reportedly withholding match bonuses from the side and the team manager amongst other notable sports personalities have been vocal on the issue. There have been frustrations over unpaid wages, a cancelled pre-WWC training camp in Nigeria and poor travel arrangements. There was a similar pay dispute over bonuses after the 2019 WWC in France which raised eyebrows as the team threatened a sit-in protest at their hotel. The NFF issues aside, Nigeria are by far the top African team having won four out of the last six Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (WAFCON) since 2010 and deserve much more support for their organisation given the quality in the squad.
The 3-2 over co-hosts Australia sounds close on paper but in reality, Nigeria were dominant and Australia were very lucky to get the goals that they did. Both goals came in the additional minutes of the first and second half where Nigeria had slightly switched off allowing for some opportunistic finishes as a total of 16 additional minutes were awarded over the two halves. Nigeria hit back in four minutes to equalise at the end of the first half before a goal off a set piece in the second half and then a brilliant counter attack delivered the result five minutes later.
The resilience of the players is adding a freshness to the tournament as the Nigerian women fight tooth and nail for every ball to ensure they can get as far as possible in the tournament. This spirit was embodied by their captain and goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie who rescued a crucial point in their opening game against Canada going down low on the left to save a second half penalty and parry away the second ball. In the next game, Osinachi Ohale took a kick in the chest from Australian defender Alanna Kennedy which forcing home the second goal of the game to pull ahead.
Another player making an impression is Asisat Oshoala scored the eventual winner in the massive victory over co-hosts Australia and became the first African woman to score in three Women’s World Cups having previously found the net in the 2015 and 2019 tournaments. She marked the occasion with an iconic celebration taking off her shirt emulating Chloe Kelly for England at the Euro finals last year or Brandi Chastain for the United States at the 1999 World Cup. The striker has won the African Women’s Player of the Year Award five times and has 83 in 89 games for her club FC Barcelona alongside a flurry of titles.
You can watch the highlights of their big win here or below.
The Nigerian coach Randy Waldrum echoed this sentiment in his post match presser where he spoke of the ‘pure heart’ and ‘desire to fight’ being Nigeria’s edge as they took their chances and repelled all attacks in their opening two games to take an impressive four points from current Olympic champions and tournament co-hosts both of whom are heavy favourites for deep runs in the competition.
One game stands between them and the knock outs as they look to get out of the group for the second consecutive time and look further to match their best ever performance at a WWC by making it to the quarter finals. The Republic of Ireland are yet to pick up a point but remain a threat but despite this, Nigeria only need a single point to confirm their spot in the round of sixteen. The side are on the brink of something big as they potentially face off with England or Denmark in their round of sixteen fixture with one of the best squads they have ever had.