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‘A breath of recent air’: Nigeria’s World Cup run sparks pleasure again residence | Ladies’s World Cup


Lagos, Nigeria – Nigeria’s 0-0 draw with the Republic of Eire final week took their Ladies’s World Cup factors tally to 5 from three matches, sufficient to safe passage from the group stage for under the third time within the nation’s historical past.

A round-of-16 conflict with England beckons on Monday, and for 59-year-old cab driver Adetunji Ajagbe, this holds significance. Regardless of giving up on watching the nationwide groups for years as a way to – in his phrases – “keep away from coronary heart assaults”, the Tremendous Falcons’ performances have tempted him again.

The prospect of one-upping England, in gentle of the colonial subplot, is especially tantalising.

“They took a lot from us [when] they colonised us,” he says.

He added: “I’ve not been following Nigeria in [recent] competitions, however these ladies are enjoying good soccer and utilizing their power very effectively. I consider they will go far.”

The work of the present crop in Australia is redemptive in additional methods than one.

Not solely is it repairing the nation’s picture as also-rans on the Ladies’s World Cup and assuaging the anger and disappointment over the Tremendous Eagles’ failure to qualify for the 2022 males’s World Cup in Qatar, however the success of the Tremendous Falcons’ marketing campaign down beneath has offered a uncommon vibrant spot within the midst of political instability and violence, runaway inflation, a price of residing disaster, and rising youth migration.

“Having a nationwide staff doing effectively in a serious event is at all times an excellent distraction for Nigerians as they typically overlook their crises so long as the staff stays in that event,” sports activities journalist Fisayo Dairo advised Al Jazeera.

“Some excited followers are already being bullish concerning the Falcons’ probabilities of attending to the semifinal, this may additional improve the unimaginable and unstoppable pleasure and assist throughout the nation.”

As certainly one of many Nigerians thrilled by the aspect’s performances, human assets specialist Victoria Olowonefa mentioned it was nice to listen to constructive information about Nigeria on a world stage.

“It’s a breath of recent air amidst the chaos we’re experiencing as a rustic,” she mentioned.

‘Inspiring’ soccer

Ladies’s soccer has at all times been well-liked in Nigeria, however regardless of the nationwide staff that includes at each Ladies’s World Cup because the 1991 inaugural version, it has largely performed second fiddle to the lads’s recreation – regardless of the ladies bringing residence rather more silverware.

On African soil, Nigeria paved the way with 9 titles from 12 Ladies’s Africa Cup of Nations titles. However on the Ladies’s World Cup, no nation has misplaced extra matches or conceded extra targets.

The Tremendous Falcons have been significantly unfancied and beset by disputes on the eve of this World Cup.

Other than being drawn in a troublesome group alongside Olympics champions Canada and the co-hosts Australia, Nigeria’s preparations for the 2023 version have been virtually derailed by a public disagreement between the Nigeria Soccer Federation (NFF) and the staff’s coach Randy Waldrum, in addition to the specter of a gamers’ boycott over a pay dispute.

The American coach bemoaned an absence of assist, cash owed to each coaches and gamers and interference in his staff choices.

“In October, each nation was given $960,000 from FIFA to organize for the World Cup. The place’s the cash?” Waldrum mentioned on the On The Whistle podcast in early July.

His employers in flip fired again, berating him for talking out of flip – NFF spokesperson Ademola Olajire reportedly branded him an “incompetent loudmouth” and “the worst coach to have dealt with the Tremendous Falcons by a rustic mile”.

Regardless of the nationwide staff’s historic file of success in Africa, they’ve typically gotten the quick finish of the stick relative to their male counterparts. Gamers have additionally protested unpaid bonuses at earlier tournaments and there was negligible funding within the native ladies’s leagues, with seasons usually truncated as a result of an absence of funding and golf equipment understaffed and underfinanced.

It was hardly shocking that many predicted an early exit on this yr’s Ladies’s World Cup and have been content material to merely keep away from shame. That Nigeria then went on to safe a spot within the spherical of 16 by beating Australia, holding Canada, maintaining two clear sheets and avoiding defeat got here as a welcome shock.

Radio host Biola Solace-Chukwu described the success as “a aid”.

“[It is] a pleasure to see the staff enjoying inspiring, disciplined soccer,” he advised Al Jazeera.

The staff not solely boasts attacking stars equivalent to Barcelona’s Asisat Oshoala and Atletico Madrid’s Rasheedat Ajibade, however can also be constructed on a strong defence.

Many credit score Waldrum for his potential to dam out the noise and get the squad well-drilled and in peak bodily situation.

“Lots of people didn’t consider we’d get out of the group,” the American coach mentioned. “However now, Nigerians can see the work that we’ve put in, and we’re as ready as we presumably can [be].”

In the meantime, some say assist for a profitable nationwide staff has additionally helped deliver a divided nation collectively.

“This event has helped foster nationwide unity as many individuals look past their ethnicity, non secular and political affiliations to observe and cheer the ladies on,” Abuja-based public well being employee Opeyemi Afolabi mentioned.

“Watching the ladies play with a lot enthusiasm and success has been a supply of inspiration to younger individuals, a lot of whom look as much as a few of the gamers as function fashions.”

Asisat Oshoala of Nigeria shoots
Oshoala shoots in the course of the group stage match towards Eire [Justin Setterfield/Getty Images]

‘No greater motivation’

Whether or not the positivity round this World Cup marketing campaign will final lengthy stays to be seen. In some ways, the Tremendous Falcons are papering over the cracks with their outcomes and there may be nonetheless no decision over what coaches and gamers are owed by the NFF.

“The Tremendous Falcons’ success down beneath has to this point been an excellent distraction from the challenges within the nation [but] everyone knows it’s short-lived as a result of when the sport is over, after a number of hours or days of celebration, Nigerians are again to actuality,” sports activities journalist Queen John-Moseph mentioned.

Nevertheless, by elevating the profile of ladies’s soccer within the nation, some hope the World Cup run can enhance the degrees of accountability and assist in Nigerian soccer.

“This unimaginable World Cup run will certainly deliver the publicity and assist the ladies’s recreation desperately wants at residence,” Afolabi says. “Hopefully, it should additionally present gamers from Nigeria’s native leagues with a possibility to play in the USA and in some European international locations.

“For years, the Tremendous Falcons gamers have been handled poorly and perhaps now they may get the remedy they deserve.”

With reigning European champions England up subsequent, they may want greater than enthusiasm and pleasure again residence if they’re to progress to the quarter-finals at a World Cup for under the second time of their historical past.

That mentioned, whereas Nigeria would go in because the underdogs, it’s a tie that doesn’t maintain undue worry for the Tremendous Falcons. They’ve, in any case, nothing to lose and are buoyed by the hope and enthusiasm of greater than 200 million individuals.

In reality, the Tremendous Falcons have a constructive head-to-head file towards England, having overwhelmed them twice in three conferences.

“The Nigerian staff has thousands and thousands cheering them on at residence, on social media, TV and radio,” former Tremendous Falcons goalkeeper Rachael Ayegba, a member of the 2007 World Cup squad, advised Al Jazeera.

“And I truthfully assume there isn’t any motivation greater than that.”

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