Nigeria breezed through what was dubbed the “group of death” at the Women’s World Cup, but a victory over England on Monday and a berth in the quarterfinals would be one of most significant accomplishments in his team’s history, coach Randy Waldrum said.
“It would be a huge win,” Waldrum told reporters on Sunday, a day ahead of Nigeria’s last-16 match with the Lionesses.
“Obviously, with what we’ve accomplished, Nigeria is buzzing again from what I understand, and I don’t think people expected us to get out of the group and to get the results that we’ve gotten. So, I think it’s already been a big success.”
Nigeria arrived Down Under with a 40th world ranking and mired in a money dispute with their federation that, according to media reports, threatened Waldrum’s job before the tournament even kicked off.
But Waldrum praised his players as being laser-focused on the pitch, drawing Olympic champions Canada and Ireland (both 0-0) and beating Australia 3-2 to finish second in Group B.
“Obviously, if you can not only, now, have (knocked out) the Olympic gold medallist, but if you can turn around and beat the European champions, then it’d be something extremely special back home for all the people in Nigeria and more importantly, too, for the squad,” Waldrum said.
“It certainly could be transformational in a lot of different ways.”
The Super Falcons flew under the radar into the global tournament, largely due to their fourth-place finish at the African Cup of Nations, but Waldrum said his squad has trained and played with a lot of confidence since their arrival.
Nigeria are playing in their ninth World Cup, their top finish being a quarterfinal appearance in 1999. They are one of three African nations to make the round-of-16, a first for the tournament. South Africa, who were eliminated in a 2-0 loss to the Netherlands on Sunday, and Morocco were the other two.
“I have watched, just like you all have, this World Cup unfold and seen some of the story lines that are out there, with teams that are successful,” Waldrum, an American, said.
“The African teams, the talent is there, so maybe people outside of Africa may be shocked about it, but I don’t think those in Africa really are, because they see the talent level.”
Nigerian striker Desire Oparanozie could make her first World Cup appearance on Monday after picking up an injury in training.
Waldrum said Oparanozie’s status is undetermined, but “the good thing is she’s now available.” -SuperSport