Low expectations and a bitter pay dispute followed Nigeria to the Women’s World Cup but team spirit trumped off-field woes on Thursday as the Super Falcons breathed life into their tournament with a stunning win over co-hosts Australia.
Weeks before the World Cup’s kick-off, coach Randy Waldrum complained bitterly about unpaid wages for himself and his players, and a lack of resources to prepare his team properly.
The disputes with Nigeria’s soccer federation remain unresolved but the players promised to set them aside for the good of their tournament.
Focusing on the job at hand has paid dividends on the field against two of the top contenders, with Thursday’s 3-2 win over Australia following a valuable 0-0 draw against Olympic champions Canada.
Though top of Group B, level on four points with Canada but ahead on goals scored, Nigeria still have work to do.
The lowest-ranked side in the group, the world number 40 Africans may need another win against Ireland in their last match to reach the knockout phase.
However, Waldrum said they could at least allow themselves a brief celebration after putting doubters in their place.
“I told (the players) after the match, you know, keep believing,” the American told reporters.
“Keep believing in yourself because great things can happen for teams when you really fight for each other.
“And it’s not always sometimes the best talent that wins.
“Sometimes it’s the best team, the team that works best together — and we’re enjoying the journey.
“We know there’s still work to do. So we’ll enjoy it tonight and then get our recovery going tomorrow because it was a very, very taxing game on us physically.”
In contrast to Nigeria, world number 10 Australia have been lavished with resources as tournament co-hosts and have enjoyed gender parity with the national men’s team since their collective bargaining agreement in 2019.
The Matildas also had a massive crowd at Lang Park roaring them on but home fans were stunned into silence after Nigeria’s top striker Asisat Oshoala came off the bench to score the Africans’ third goal in the 72nd minute, all but sealing the match.
Ireland will be Nigeria’s immediate focus but the Super Falcons’ battle for respect and better conditions will be an ongoing mission, Waldrum suggested.
“We need to continue to fight for our players and get the things that they need,” he said.
“We have to keep doing that for all around the world because not all the teams have a collective bargaining like you have here in Australia — and the players fought hard to get that for many years. And same in the U.S.
“So the work is not done.”