Has Waldrum Redeemed Himself With Falcons Win Against Costa Rica?
On another day, the Super Falcons' slim 1:0 victory against Costa Rica last night would have left the team and their coach lavished with praises and encomiums by jubilant and ever-grateful Nigeria fans but not on this occasion.
The clouds of despair and disappointment over the team's recent rotten vein of form and Waldrum’s questionable tactical injections loom larger than any satisfaction that could be milked out of the win against Costa Rica.
But, in truth, if one can manage to see through the plume of dissatisfaction that fans currently feel, there are a lot of positives to be gleaned from the Falcons performance last night. But, my worry is, can these positives be sustained? Can these bright spots be replicated in the lead up to and during the Women’s World Cup in the summer?
I very much have my doubts.
It had been over 270 minutes of football since the Super Falcons last bulged the back of any net. So, when Echegini's delightful cross deep in Costa Rica's 18 yard box was rewarded by Okoronkwo's emphatic volley that crashed the net for Nigeria's solitary goal in 45 minutes, it brought more of a sigh of relief for fans rather than the natural jubilation that should have followed.
It was just Nigeria's second goal in 630 minutes of football: no greater indication of how abject the team has been recently need be sought.
But the goal aside, the win was symbolic for many other reasons. For example, if I am not incorrect, it is the first time under the beleaguered Randy Waldrum that the Super Falcons would defeat a team higher than them in the Fifa rankings: Costa Rica currently rank 37 whilst Nigeria are 45 on the table.
Also, Costa Rica are a world cup bound team which adds another layer of panache to the win for Nigeria.
Watching the match, I could hardly believe what I was seeing as the Super Falcons created no less than 10 big moments in front of goal. Alozie was delivering some deft crosses; Echegini had her header go just wide; Ucheibe's long range shot was dragged just wide; Onumonu's rebound shot almost crept into the net after good work from Ajibade on the; Kanu rattled the Costa Rica defense severally; and Iheuzo also came close to scoring.
In fact, Nigeria registered a mammoth 16 shots at goal compared to Costa Rica's paltry 6.
It was a dominant display from the Falcons as they looked comfortable within their skin under the 4-2-3-1 formation deployed by Waldrum (who was without his usual sidekick Lauren Gregg on the sidelines - I often feel slightly more comfortable seeing her by his side).
It was good to see Yewande Balogun make her much anticipated debut for the Super Falcons. I was hoping to have seen her in one of those games that saw Nnadozie produce world class saves but Yewande was scarcely tested by Costa Rica. Still, her calm demeanor and decent distribution caught the eye.
Most of the outfield players put up fine performances in the match. But Onumonu still struggled to catch up with through balls while Esther Okoronkwo had problems trapping balls. Alozie and Payne were impressive while Echegini put up a woman-of-the-match performance.
The team was compact all round and their high pressings caused no end of problems to Costa Rica which almost led to 2 goals had Echegini and Ucheibe being more clinical. Nigeria effectively slammed the door of possibilities shut to Costa Rica at the back with sturdy defensive play by the back four. Surprisingly, the Super Falcons were overly physical which brought casualties to Costa Rica and yellow card to Nigeria.
In all, I was satisfied but still left unimpressed in the wider scheme of things. I thought Costa Rica were tepid which made things slightly easier for Waldrum’s Falcons. I wish Nigeria had one or two more matches immediately after this Costa Rica match in which to gauge their progress or lack thereof.
But for now, kudos to the ladies and Waldrum for this win. For me, it changes nothing, my expectation of the team in the coming months remains as meager and rock bottom as can possibly be.