BY FOLAKE OKEGBENLE.
If Onome Ebi is fielded tonight by Super Falcons’ handlers in the destiny-shaping match with France, she will, with 13 games, become the joint-leading African player in the Women’s World Cup appearance ranking, the same number as compatriot Florence Omagbemi (1991-2003).
Vastly experienced defender Ebi, this is her fifth World Cup appearance. Her first came in 2003 as part of a Nigeria team that consisted of national legends Perpetua Nkwocha, Precious Dede and Mercy Akide.
The 36-year-old centre-back plays for China PR club Henan Huishang and was named Nigeria’s Player of the Year 2018.
When France and Nigeria meet this Monday night in their last Group A match, it will be the third time both teams ever clashed.
The two previous matches were in favour of France. The first took place in the Women’s World Cup 2011, when Les Bleues prevailed 1-0 thanks to Marie-Laure Delie’s 56th-minute winner. The second match was last year in a friendly match in France. The hosts not only spelt Nigeria with 8-0 win, they added an extra.
France with two matches in the group stage, already qualified for the next round and could be tempted to rest some key players.
The Super Falcons have reached the second round only once, in 1999. France have ventured beyond the group stage three times in four editions, including this one.
Thomas Dennerby is facing France for the third time in the finals of a FIFA competition, having done so twice before as coach of Sweden.
The first meeting was in the Play-Off for Third Place at the Women’s World Cup 2011, which the Scandinavians won 2-1. Sweden lost by the same scoreline in the quarter-finals of the Olympic Football Tournament 2012.
Dennerby is overseeing his 12th Women’s World Cup game and climbs to joint-fifth position in the all- time coaches’ appearance table, alongside Ma Yuanan (China PR), Gero Bisanz (Germany) and Tony Di Cicco (USA).
If his Nigerian charges qualify for the second round, the Swede will join Japanese tactician Norio Sasaki in fourth place.
If picked, Eugenie Le Sommer and Gaetane Thiney will play their 14th match in the competition and equal Laura Georges’ record as the highest-ranking Frenchwoman in the World Cup appearance table.