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Following their eventful opener against Canada in the early hours of Friday, at the Rectangular Stadium in Melbourne, the Super Falcons of Nigeria have since returned to Brisbane.
They have been perfecting their tactics ahead of Thursday’s cracker against co-hosts, the Matildas of Australia.
The Falcons celebrated their goalless draw with reigning Olympic Champions, Canada, having ended the match with ten players, while woman-of-the-match, goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie had to apply a double save in the 55th minute to stop legendary Christine Sinclair from netting for Canada from the penalty spot.
Against Australia, Nigeria will be without Deborah Abiodun, who was shown the red card at the stroke of 90 minutes.
However, the suspended duo of Rasheedat Ajibade and Halimatu Ayinde should be back to the squad, and maybe straight to the Starting XI, having served the full punishment for the yellow cards picked up when the Falcons lost to the Atlas Lionesses of Morocco in the semi-finals of the 2022 women’s Africa Cup of Nations.
But for Deborah Abiodun, who was massive in the midfield for Nigeria against Canada, the return of Ajibade and Ayinde means the nine-time African Champions will be near-full strength when facing the Australians in their second Group B match.
Speaking on the impact the players will make against the co-hosts, a source within the squad said: “Everybody is excited to have them back, knowing what they can bring to the party; but it is the prerogative of the Head Coach, Randy Waldrum to decide who to play and who to bench. But I can assure you both players will play some part against Australia.”
Australia kicked off their World Cup campaign last Friday, with a hard-fought 1-0 victory against the Republic of Ireland, and lead the group with 3 points, two clear of Canada and Nigeria, while Republic of Ireland are bottom of the log with no point thus far.
The heroics and Woman-of-the-match performance by Paris FC of France keeper, Nnadozie, against Canada is still making news and being discussed in the Australian media. But we understand the players have been told by their handlers not to be overly obsessed with the task of beating the Matildas and should avoid being carried away by such media hype.
Aside Nineteen-year-old Abiodun, who will miss Thursday’s match, no other member of the Falcons team is on FIFA’s list of suspended players.
Only Blessing Demehin, who was cautioned in the goalless draw with Canada, will miss the last group match against the Republic of Ireland if she receives another caution on Thursday.
On Monday, Alexandra Popp scored twice as Germany trounced debutants Morocco 6-0, in their opening Group H fixture.
The result means all four African teams – South Africa, Zambia, Nigeria and Morocco – have now played a match each, but only the Falcons have a point to their name; while the other three sides have cumulatively shipped-in as many as 13 goals, with South Africa’s Banyana Banyana the only side to have netted a goal.
In fact, the African Champions took the lead against European powerhouse, Sweden, and were within seconds of securing a point, when the Swedish ladies struck to claim a 2-1 victory and all three points at stake.
It’s on record that at the 2022 men’s world cup finals in Qatar, the scenario was similar, with only Morocco and Tunisia drawing their openers; although the second and final round of fixtures saw the teams churn out better results, including Tunisia beating France, Ghana edging Ecuador and Cameroon defeating 5-time champions, Brazil, while Morocco went all the way to become the first African side to reach the semi-finals.
Reporting by Chinedum Ohanusi; Editing by Abdullahi Lamino and Tony Okerafor