Nigeria U-20 Women’s World Cup team preview: strengths, weakness, key players

Falconets
Falconets eyeing a return to the top-echelon of women's youth football

Time to get familiar with Africa’s torchbearers in the 2018 U20 Women’s World Cup (U20 WWC). First up was a look at Ghana. Now a look at two-time U20 WWC finalists Nigeria.

Falconets came tantalizing close to winning the World Cup twice (2010, 2014), losing to Germany in the finals both times.

They will be eyeing to reach such heights in France 2018 to return to the top-echelon of women’s youth football after an agonizing group stage exit in 2016.

For this redemption quest, Coach Chris Danjuma has enlisted a well-experienced and exposed squad.

Six of the players featured in the 2016 World Cup, including star playmaker Rasheedat Ajibade.

Onyinyechukwu Okeke, Glory Ogbonna, Oluwakemi Famuditi, Mary Ologboser and Adebisi Saheed will also be playing in their second successive U20 WWC.

Basics

World Cup appearance: 9th

Best World Cup finish: runners-up (2010, 2014)

Nigeria’s Schedule

vs. Germany, 6 Aug, 12h30
vs. Haiti, 9 Aug, 15h30
vs. China PR, 13 Aug, 15h30

***All kickoff times NGR time
***Live on: StarTimes/SuperSport

Squad

Manager: Christopher Danjuma

Captain: Oluwakemi Famuditi

Players to watch: Rasheedat Ajibade

[Full 21-player squad]

Star player

Rasheedat Ajibade is the heart of the team’s attack, which amassed 23 goals in the qualifiers.

The FC Robo captain scored in all six of Nigeria’s qualifying matches, finishing as joint-topscorer on 10 goals alongside Ghana’s Princella Adubea.

In addition to her proficiency in front of goal, Ajibade also brings a wealth of experience at this level.

Other than the 2016 U20 WWC, she also featured in the 2014 and 2016 U17 WWCs before earning her senior cap early this year in WAFU 2018.

The 18-year-old marked her debut senior outing with a hat-trick in a 3-0 win over Senegal en route to clinching bronze.

Her vision, swiftness and characteristic intelligent ball sense, paired with the versatile options available, will make for a potent attack, able to switch positions at will.

Solid backline

Beyond the experience and the flexibility up front, that the regular back four of Ogbonna, Famuditi, Ologbosere and Opeyemi Sunday have played together in various national set-ups is a big plus.

The efffectiveness of this familiarity in defence was evident in the qualifiers where the Falconets conceded just two goals and kept four clean sheets.

Meanwhile, goalkeeping options between the lanky duo of Okeke and Chiamaka Nnadozie should be a welcome headache for Coach Danjuma.

Rita Akarekor, 2016 NWFL’s safest hands and AWCON 2016 winner, also makes a reliable back-up plan.

Communication will be vital, nonetheless, especially in covering for the swift Ologbosere when she surges forward to deliver her trademark inch-perfect crosses.

Any weakness?

The calming presence of Mary Saiki, technique of Grace Igbomalu and Adebisi Saheed, Bashirat Amoo’s defense-splitting passes and the width Peace Efih brings should make for a cohesive midfield.

However, every so often, there have been glimpses of a dip in creativity, which has seen the midfield turn to predictable long balls.

Most pivotal match

Falconets’ opener against Germany—the side that twice denied them a world title—will set the tone in Group D.

If the tie produces a winner, the victor will be favourite to finish top of the group, which also features China PR, marking a return after missing Papua Guinea 2016.

The wild card of the group is certainly the debutants Haiti who stunned heavyweights Canada in the Concacaf qualifiers.

Prediction

If the Falconets can get past the group stage, then the only thing that will be left is planning how best to celebrate after Famuditi lifts the trophy come 24 August.

Probable XI

Onyinyechukwu Okeke – Glory Ogbonna, Oluwakemi Famuditi (C), Opeyemi Sunday, Mary Ologbosere – Bashirat Amoo, Christy Ucheibe, Grace Igbomalu – Rasheedat Ajibade, Anam Imo, Gift Monday.

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