Thursday, June 13, 2024

Women's World Cup 2023: Mixed emotions as Nigeria bow out, says ex-Super Falcon – BBC


The goalkeeper, who represented Nigeria between 2001 and 2010 and was called up to their 2007 Women's World Cup squad, talks to BBC Sport Africa about Nigeria's heartbreaking defeat by England, and Africa's World Cup as a whole.
I have mixed emotions following Nigeria's defeat by England as this was the Super Falcons' best game of the tournament by far. I'm so pleased with the way they played, but also so gutted for them.
They had all the chances to bury the game, especially Ashleigh Plumptre's effort, and hit the post twice, but it just didn't happen for them. We had the opportunity, didn't use it and that cost us a quarter-final spot.
Before the game, some were thinking it was going to be an easy run for England – but you could tell from spectators' eyes that they couldn't believe what they were seeing.
This was one of England's biggest challenges, which they managed to squeak through, and they are going to go far. If they don't have any more injuries, I think they will win this Women's World Cup.
But returning to Nigeria, this is the first time we've played four unbeaten games at a Women's World Cup, and we also conceded just two goals. So I would give the team 10/10 but am going for 9/10 since when we got into the final third, we had to use our chances but we made mistakes there.
The team will get a lot of applause on social media as nearly everyone has been really pleased with their performance – and we did play better than England to be fair.
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Nigeria went out on penalties against England after dominating large parts of a game that ended goalless after extra-time
Everyone knows that African teams have the power and strength, but European teams have the edge over us when it comes to the tactical and technical aspects.
But now we have coaches trying to develop our African teams as football is not all about power and strength – you have to teach the game, and you have to let the players see things for themselves.
When I was playing, I didn't know how to read the game so didn't understand what was always going on on the pitch. But when I moved to Europe, my coach would tell me: "Rachael, look at this player, this is what she's good at, what she's not good at" – she would basically give me all the tools needed to go out and perform.
So these are the things we have lacked a little bit, but nonetheless England only beat us on penalties so I think this will inspire a lot of our young, talented players – that when you believe and take the fight to the opponent, anything is possible.
Because when you get to a penalty shootout, it can go either way.
Our coach, Randy Waldrum, has done a good job at this competition. The team did not play well at last year's Women's Africa Cup of Nations (Wafcon), but I don't blame him that much because he was trying to find his balance and figure out his players and what is best for the team.
With a lot of friendlies, he had the time to see the strengths and weaknesses of his players, so was able to finally blend the team properly – and you could see the way the coach set up against England.
Midfielder Halimatu Ayinde man-marked Lauren James, because everybody knows she's one of the most dangerous players, and took her out of the game. Then there was the overall strategy, the attempts to switch play and you could tell the coach – with his tactics and the way he was changing formation – was reading the game properly.
I think things will improve even more and the best is coming because we have the power and the strength, but now we are adding that final tactical aspect of understanding how and when to bury a game.
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Women's World Cup 2023: England beat Nigeria in penalty shootout to progress to quarter-finals – highlights
One thing I'll take away from this World Cup is that if anybody wants to play against South Africa or Nigeria, they're going to have to think twice about how they tackle these teams. The way things are going right now, I think people are respecting African teams, which I'm really pleased about.
South Africa played really well against the Netherlands but like us, they were let down in the final third. Morocco, meanwhile, could still spring a surprise against France since the Atlas Lionesses' coach Reynald Pedros is French and knows many of their players after coaching Lyon to Champions League success.
Whatever happens, I think the African teams will build from the experience at this World Cup.
It's the first time Africa has had three teams in the knockout phase and I have to give credit to the Confederation of African Football (Caf). I worked as a pundit at last year's Wafcon, which really opened my eyes to the work the African body is putting in to ensure we have successful competitions.
Expanding Wafcon means more teams are getting the opportunity to play against top players like Nigeria's Asisat Oshoala or South African duo Thembi Kgatlana and Jermaine Seoposenwe, so the more we do stuff like this, the more these players will be exposed and the easier things will be for African teams.
Nigeria fans endured a frustrating watch as the Super Falcons bowed out of the Women's World Cup
Having created the African Women's Champions League two years ago, Caf has also made it a rule that any men's side wishing to play top-level African club football must have a registered women's team as well in order to be allowed in. When you have the right people in the right places, things will change – and that is what we are seeing now.
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I'm also pleased with the way Fifa have decided to tackle the issue of paying bonuses to players. It will motivate young players because they can go to a tournament without thinking about money or whether they will be paid. Doing a job, putting in all your effort with no reward is what kills players – so this is going to motivate them.
We have the right people trying to help, so I'm really pleased for football right now in Africa – and 100%, I can tell you right now that at the next Women's World Cup, one of the African teams is going to go to the last eight – and perhaps the semi-finals.
Rachael Ayegba was speaking to BBC Sport Africa's Piers Edwards.
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