In a few hours time, the Super Falcons of Nigeria will face their toughest test yet at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup when they take on Olympic gold medalists Canada in their opening group match on Friday.
The contest at the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium represents a chance for the African heavyweights to make a statement against one of the pre-tournament favorites.
Arriving in Australia on the back of a fourth-place finish at the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations last year, the Super Falcons are eager to show they can match it with the world’s elite.
Much will depend on captain Asisat Oshoala rediscovering her best form. The reigning CAF Women’s Footballer of the Year is a prolific striker capable of unlocking any defence on her day.
The Barcelona superstar will be looking to outfox centre-backs Kadeisha Buchanan and Vanessa Gilles, pillars of a stout Canadian backline.
“When you have Oshoala, you have a chance against any team,” Nigeria coach Randy Waldrum said ahead of Friday’s match.
“Canada are the Olympics Gold medalists and we know they are going to be very good. We played them twice the last year and have a lot of respect for them.
“They are a very good side, very well coached, but I think we can have the ability to be successful if we perform and stick to our gameplan.
“Obviously, the weather in Melbourne is going to be a little bit of a factor, it’s colder than we’re used to, but it’s a 12:30 kick-off, so that should help a little bit.“
In midfield, Rita Chikwelu’s combativeness and distribution will be key if Nigeria is to disrupt Canada’s rhythm and supply Oshoala up front.