Nigeria suffered the heartbreak of a penalty shootout loss to England in their Women’s World Cup last 16 fixture in Brisbane on Monday, but there is plenty of evidence this is a team on the rise if they are allowed to continue to develop.
The Super Falcons created more than enough chances to beat European champions England in the 120 minutes, saving their best performance of the competition for last, but in the end were twice denied by the width of the post and their nerves in the shootout following a 0-0 draw.
Through the competition they made a mockery of their world ranking of 40 with a blend of pace, power and organisation.
“They’ve been fantastic the whole tournament,” coach Randy Waldrum told reporters after the England loss. “I said to them after the match we’ve not lost a game realistically (outright).
“We’ve played against the Olympic gold medallists (Canada), the European champions and we kept a clean sheet in both of those games.
“We played the host nation (Australia) and Ireland, who are in the top 20, and we didn’t lose.
“I hope people have seen that there is talent there and that we have the ability, and with a little structure and a little organisation, and a commitment to provide the resources that we need, hopefully people see that we can be a major player on the world stage.”
But while the team performed superbly on the field, there has been behind-the-scenes drama over pay and Waldrum has been particularly outspoken against the Nigeria football federation, putting his job on the line.
In certain quarters the knives will be out for him, and if he leaves, the team will face an uncertain future with many players likely to consider their futures.
“I am proud of my team. I want to stay with this team and continue working towards the Olympics (next year). But that is not a matter for me to decide,” Waldrum conceded.
In a podcast that aired last month ahead of the tournament, he revealed he was owed seven months’ wages and some of his players had not been paid in two years.
“At some point there has got to become a realisation about all the things we do day-to-day with how the federation treats the players and how they provide resources for proper training, travel and all those issues,” he told reporters before the tournament.
But that is a worry for tomorrow. For now, Nigeria should be lauded for the quality they produced on the field and the potential they have to go further with this squad.
“We don’t want to take the success now and not continue to move forward when we get back to Nigeria,” Waldrum said.