Author Topic: How far can Falcons fly in China?  (Read 2098 times)

Offline David

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How far can Falcons fly in China?
« on: January 12, 2007, 10:20:21 AM »
Interesting piece about Nigerian womens football and preparations for China 2007 -

For FIFA Women's World Cup champion, Germany, and fellow European qualifiers such as Denmark, England, Norway and Sweden, the ability to do well in the 2007 Women World Cup in China will depend largely on the preparations at hand. The five European contenders for the title and second African representative, Ghana, are already preparing their warm-up schedules. These include the first UEFA Women EURO 2009 qualifiers and the possibility of another international game at the new Wembley Stadium.

GOWON AKPODONOR writes that unless there is adequate preparation and a total deviation from the past, the Super Falcons may merely make up the list when hostilities begin in September.

IF pre-championship boast is what is required to capture world titles, the Super Falcons of Nigeria would long have been crowned world champions. But with no sign of good preparations on ground for the female national team ahead of China 2007 Women World Cup, officials of the Nigeria Football Association (NFA) still believe that victory is on the way.

They have boasted several times that the Super Falcons would not only pull a big surprise in China, but show the rest of the world that they are equally a force to reckon with in female football.

NFA Chairman, Sani Lulu, and board member, Princess Bola Jegede, have said at different occasions that the board had discovered that the hasty and uncoordinated approach, which the country always adopts for international engagements, does not favour the nation and as such, had begun moves to ensure that all necessary bottlenecks were eliminated this time.

The Falcons and Ghana Black Queens will be flying Africa's flag in China following their qualification at the Fifth Africa Women Championship in Warri, Delta State, last year. It will be Falcons' fifth consecutive appearance in the FIFA World Cup and the third for the Black Queens.

The Falcons qualified for the maiden FIFA Women's World Cup in China in 1991 with an emphatic African record, scoring 20 goals and conceding just two in the three matches played. The team, led by Coach Paul Hamilton, with players like Florence Omagbemi, Chioma Ajunwa and Nkiru Okosieme, out-scored Ghana Black Queens 7-2 on aggregate before handing a 7-0 defeat to Guinea. The Lioness of Cameroun also suffered a 0-6 defeat.

The NFA, thinking that Falcons had arrived, did little or nothing to properly train the girls (both at home and overseas), which could have given them the needed exposure before the China outing. Their defeat was a fait accompli as Falcons lost all three matches - to Italy, Germany and Chinese Taipei - at the tourney.

A 0-4 defeat by Germany, an own-goal by Ajunwa in the match against Italy and a 0-2 loss to Chinese Taipei sealed the awful fate of the Falcons in the competition.

Princess Jegede, now a board member of the NFA, and the late Simbiat Abiola were part of the Falcons team to China. Between 1991 and 1995 when the second edition of the Cup took place in Sweden, the NFA did not deem it fit to put things right in terms of preparing the girls for the championship.

As usual, the African qualifiers, which had over the years served as the only preparatory ground for the Falcons, saw the girls shinning (albeit deceptively) like stars. They did not disappoint their home fans, piling a 9-0 routing of Sierra Leone in Ibadan, 2-0 away in Freetown, a 4-1 massacre of South Africa's Banyana Banyana in Ibadan and 7-1 in Johannesburg while Ghana Black Queens fell 0-3 in Accra and 0-2 in Ibadan. With this outstanding show, the team booked a ticket to Sweden.

But the usual lack of planning, which has been the bane of sports in Nigeria, played a major role against the team once again. The Falcons did not only crash out in the first round but created the unenviable record of the team ever to concede the highest number of goals in the history of the FIFA women world tourney.

Falcons' fatal flight gave an early signal soon after it was airborne. A loss of cabin pressure forced a 0-8 crash-land in the first match against Norway. It wasn't that bad in China four years earlier.

Their spirit already low, the Falcons managed a 3-3 draw with Canada but went on to squander a 2-1 first half lead and eventually lost 2-3 to England. The defeat by England signalled the end of the road for Nigeria, though the girls scored five goals in the championship.

Nigeria and Ghana qualified for the Third FIFA Women World Cup in USA in 1999, after both countries played in the final of the maiden African Women Championship in Abeokuta, Ogun State. Perhaps, the best preparation by the Falcons for any major championship took place that year, for the simple reason that the country was also preparing to host the Nigeria '99 World Youth Championship (WYC).

Besides, the NFA was trying to avoid a situation whereby the second African representative, Ghana, does not have an upper hand against Nigeria at the World Cup. With few friendly matches played outside the country, the Falcons set off for the United States with high hopes.

The Falcons had the best record in USA '99, beating North Korea 2-1, Mercy Akide and Rita Nwandike scoring Nigeria's goals. The second match was a disaster as the girls got carried away by the victory against the Koreans. Host country, U.S.A., turned the Nigerian girls into training materials in the second match, posting devastating goals to Nigeria's nil.

Realising that their aspiration was almost fading away, the Falcons put their act together in readiness for the last group game against Denmark and was able to win 2-0 to advance to the quarter-final for the first and only time yet.

The team eventually lost 3-4 to Brazil through a golden goal scored by free kick specialist, Sissi, against the run of play. Sissi's kick beat a wrongly positioned goalkeeper Judith Chime for the Brazilians to carry the day. Though the Falcons lost, the players were commended for their team spirit.

Ghana did not do well, but its first appearance was not a bad story after all. It drew 1-1 with Australia, fell 0-7 to China and lost 0-2 to Sweden.

But instead of building on the team's exploits at U.S.A. '99, the NFA and Sports Ministry went to sleep. The Falcons and Ghana Black Queens again emerged Africa's representatives again at the fourth edition of FIFA Women World Cup, which also took place in the United States of America in 2003.

Though the NFA brought in Coach Sam Okpodu to handle the girls, poor preparations robbed the team of good outing in the competition. The team crashed 0-5 to host, U.S.A. in the first match, lost 0-3 to Sweden and 0-3 to Korea in the last group match to crash out of the tourney.

It was another woeful outing for the Nigerian girls, after which, Coach Okpodu did not even bother to return home with the team and nothing has been heard from him since then. But many football followers have continued to put the blames at the doorsteps of both the NFA and sports ministry for doing the team's preparations on pages of newspapers rather than the field of play.

While the Falcons were being painted with goals at the U.S.A. 2003 World Cup, the Black Queens, making their second appearance at the championship, was able to salvage a win against Australia, though the team could not make it to the quarter final. The Ghanaian team was able to achieve such feat at second appearance because of the team's good preparations prior to the championship.

And for the fifth time in a row, Nigeria will be flying Africa's flag in the championship. It will be Ghana's third appearance in the championship. While the Ghanaians have already commenced preparations for the tourney, the NFA has again resorted to making promises on the pages of newspapers.

Black Queens will tour Europe and America to fine-tune preparations towards their third World Cup appearance in China next September. The team will round off the trip in Japan, where the focus will be on acclimatising for the tournament as Ghana hopes to go beyond the first round for the first time.

Fred Crenstil, chairman of the Black Queens management committee, said the team would have an extensive preparation ahead of the competition. He said coach Isaac Paha has already submitted his report to the committee and had expressed his desire to have the team in camp by Monday, January 15, after the long Christmas and New Year holidays.

The chairman said the team that picked silver at the 2006 AWC in Delta State, will be beefed up between now and the tournament's take-off in its quest to present a strong squad that will take the world by storm at the summit.

"We are expecting to have about 30 players in camp to ensure competition through hardwork that will further aid us to pick the right materials for the tourney," he said.

The Queens, beginning from February, will start their Olympic Games campaign in search of a debut appearance. They toured U.S.A. preparatory to the AWC in Delta State and that gave the team, which was dominated by young players, the ability to stretch the star-studded Super Falcons team in the final.

The World Cup proper runs from September 10 to 30 in Shanghai, Chengdu, Hangzhou, Tianjin and Wuhan (all Chinese cities) while the draw holds on April 22.

Germany, like China, will be in the top group of seeds with the other positions to be decided by FIFA's women's world ranking. Also involved are the U.S., Canada, Australia, Korea DPR, Nigeria, Ghana, Argentina, Brazil, the winner of a play-off between Japan and Mexico in March and the winner of the OFC Oceania Women's Championship from June 16 to 22.

At the beginning of the year, the NFA assured that it would remain committed to and focused on new innovations and decisions that will move Nigerian football forward. NFA's image maker, Robinson Okosun, said in Lagos that the Sani Lulu-led board would not rest on its oars as it has started laying the foundation that would move football to the next level in Nigeria.

"The FA boss is trying to re-engineer and reposition our football. We don't want to sit down at the FA and marshal out programmes, such attitudes are things of the past," he said.

"We want all concerned - the coaches, administrators, medical teams - to be involved so that we can collectively turn round the fortunes of football.

"The year 2007, though a hectic year for the NFA, will be a successful one for Nigeria because we will go the extra mile to redeem the image of our football. Besides, we are looking beyond the shores of this country.

"The Falcons are going to China, the Under-17 will be in Togo, our Under-20 will represent us in Congo and the Super Eagles are at the moment leading their group, en route Ghana 2008.

"We are targeting 2008 and 2010 and we will not relent in our efforts or digress from plans that will successfully reposition Nigerian football to its rightful position."

For many followers of the game, it was not the first time the NFA would be making such promises whenever the Falcons have such an assignment as the World Cup at hand. In the opinion of Nigerian soccer fans, what is needed at the moment is for the NFA to provide the necessary cover for the Super Falcons' handlers to execute their programmes, which they had submitted even before the end of 2006.

At the moment, majority of Falcons' players are in Lagos, playing at the sandy hockey pitch of the National Stadium, at the annual amalgamation of female football coaches competition. The players said they were in the competition to shape up, due to a lack of camping arrangement for the national team.

Just as the Black Queens of Ghana are planning to hit camp soon, the Falcons should do the same.