A highly-motivated Nigeria U20 girls’ squad is exuding confidence of earning a berth in the 9th FIFA U20 Women’s World Cup quarter finals ahead of a potentially-explosive encounter with China in Dinan/Léhon on Monday.
Nigeria will reach the competition’s knockout stages for the seventh time in nine editions if they avoid defeat against the Chinese at the Stade de Clos Gastel.
A solitary strike from the penalty spot, by stand-in skipper Rasheedat Ajibade, earned the maximum points against Haiti on Thursday and took the Falconets to second spot in Group D, on goals balance from the Far East Asians, whose 2-1 defeat of Haiti and 0-2 loss to the Germans meant they have a deficit going into Monday’s decider in Brittany.
Coach Chris Danjuma said: “It is going to be a very busy encounter from the first blast of the whistle. We are not expecting an easy match. I said from the beginning that if we must reach the Final, we have to play and overcome very tough teams.
“We have no illusions. The Chinese squad is a very ambitious one, and we have to be at our best to overcome them. We will go out there and give our very best.”
Certainly, the bigger pressure is on the Chinese, who have to win to secure a place in the last eight. A draw would be sufficient for Nigeria.
Right-wing optimists still expect goals girl Rasheedat Ajibade to dazzle at this championship despite a slow start to the campaign, but many are those who have become impatient wondering when the FC Robo Queens ace forward will deliver on her awesome talent and promise at the World Cup finals.
She merely opened a window on her ability at the FIFA U17 World Cup in Costa Rica in 2014 (where Nigeria fell at the quarter final hurdle) and could not make the difference when the Falconets were bumped at the group phase during the last World Cup finals in Papua New Guinea two years ago.
Highly rated at home and a firebrand finisher in African qualifying matches, Ajibade has yet to convince at the World Cup.
However, Monday is another day and a spot in the quarter finals could just fire her and the likes of Anam Imo, Chidinma Okeke and Peace Efih to sublime performance in France.
World Cup runners-up in 2010 and 2014, semi finalists once and quarter finalists on three occasions, only twice before have the Falconets failed to advance beyond the group phase at this championship.
That was at the first edition in Canada in 2002, when a hurriedly assembled squad struggled, and two years ago, when the Nigerian girls were on the plane back home before the quarter finals despite winning two of three matches and finishing with six points.
China’s fast-paced game could prove a handful for Nigeria, and the efficiency of long-limbed Chiamaka Nnadozie in goal and the stout defending of Sunday Opeyemi, Mary Ologbosere, Glory Ogbonna and Oluwakemi Famuditi would be required to keep the Asians at bay.
Nnadozie has been Nigeria’s revelation of this tournament so far, pulling off a number of magnificent saves against 2010 and 2014 champions Germany and against the Haitians. She was rewarded with the ‘Dare To Dream’ Player of the Match gong against the Haitians.
This was a player who was down the pecking order during the African qualifying series, when Onyinyechukwu Okeke held sway in goal.
To qualify for the finals, the Nigerian girls pumped nine goals past their Tanzanian counterparts without conceding any, and then secured a 6-2 aggregate win over Morocco. In the final qualifying fixture, they blew South Africa apart 8-0 on aggregate, making for a total of 23 goals for and only two against.
It is time the Falconets start firing on all cylinders at the FIFA World Cup as well.