Nigeria and Australia will set alight the Lang Park in Brisbane/Meaanjin on Thursday night in what is one of the most-anticipated clashes of the group stage at this ninth edition of the FIFA Women’s World Cup finals.
With the maximum three points from their opening match against the Republic of Ireland in Sydney on 20 July, the Matildas know they have a fight on their hands against nine-time African champions, Super Falcons, who refused to bow to Olympic champions Canada in Melbourne the following day.
The Super Falcons know only a win will be good enough to stand them in good stead for a place in the Round of 16, as only the two top-placed teams in each of the eight groups will make progress in a tournament that has welcomed 32 teams for the first time ever.
“Of course, it is the World Cup. You have to accept the fact that you are going to play the best teams in the world and you have to be alive to that responsibility and face it with your full chest,” team captain Onome Ebi told thenff.com after the tournament draw that was conducted in Auckland, New Zealand in October 2022.
On Tuesday, Ebi reiterated the position of the Super Falcons: “We will go in there and play to win. There are no two ways about it. Only three points will be good enough for us.”
Ebi says their five-match unbeaten streak is one of the calipers that will keep the girls going strong on a turf much more familiar to their opponents and in front of dozens of thousands of a partisan crowd at Lang Park.
Before the draw with Canada, the Super Falcons had pipped Costa Rica 1-0, edged Haiti 2-1, trounced New Zealand 3-0, and slayed Lions Women’s Football Club 8-1 before the World Cup.
Nigeria is one of only seven countries (the others being the USA, Brazil, Germany, Sweden, Japan, and Norway) to have featured in every single edition of the FIFA Women’s World Cup finals since the competition was launched in 1991. Australia missed the inaugural edition in China, but have been at every other final tournament since then.
Goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie has returned to training after being excused for one day following the MVP-winning performance against Canada in Melbourne, and consistency is expected in the selection of the rearguard, with Michelle Alozie and Ashley Plumptre on the wings, and veteran Osinachi Ohale and youthful Oluwatosin Demehin at central.
The co-hosts will have to do without their talismanic captain Sam Kerr, who has been the face on most advertisements pertaining to the tournament here.
Antithetically, Nigeria has gained with the return of the fabulous Rasheedat Ajibade – whose goal against Cameroon in the Women Africa Cup of Nations’ quarter-finals secured Nigeria’s passage to these finals – and midfield battering ram Halimatu Ayinde from suspension.
Asisat Oshoala, who suffered a knock against the Canadians, could be excused, with Nigeria sufficiently blessed in Desire Oparanozie, Jennifer Echegini, Gift Monday, and Uchenna Kanu.