Randy Waldrum’s Super Falcons were trounced convincingly with two goals to nothing in the early hours of this morning against a heavily motivated Canada in friendly match in which they struggled to stamp their authority for long periods.
Despite missing a host of big names like Oshoala, Oparanozie and Ordega, I had expected the Super Falcons to still put up a competitive and compelling effort. But if truth be told, the Canadians thoroughly deserved their 2:0 victory. In fact, it could have been worse for Nigeria but for some truly extraordinary saves from substitute goalkeeper Tochukwu Oluehi who reminded everyone of her world class goalkeeping status.
The game started with Canada pitching their 4:3:3 formation against Waldrum’s 5:3:2. The hosts paid tribute to their triple Olympic medallist striker Christine Sinclair who came against our own record 4 time World Cup participant Onome Ebi in defence (both ladies are 38 years old).
There was visible Nigerian presence on the stands with very many cheering Super Falcons fans wearing Nigeria’s home jersey. But nothing could douse the overwhelming passionate, patriotic and heartfelt support from the huge home crowd as the organisers used to the occasion to also celebrate and acknowledge the contributions of some past and present Canadian players in emotional scenes.
All these did not translate into a charitable mood for the hosts who went about their game with a businesslike manner from the off. Although it took 51 minutes for Jessie Fleming to slam the back of Nigeria’s net, the cautionary tale was always there. And when centre back Venessa Guiles rose highest to head in Canada’s second, their dominance was at last rightfully reflected in the score line, 2:0.
Ajibade and T. Payne did come closest for Nigeria with fiendish and ferocious long range strikes while Echegini and Chikwelu saw their looping long range efforts raised hope. But Canada, who unlike Nigeria shockingly does not have a domestic women’s football league, held on for a 2:0 victory that delighted their paying fans.
Below I rate the Super Falcons players and coach:
1. Chiamaka Nnadozie (8/10) was composed in the dispensation of her goalkeeping duties. She was called to action as early as the 18th minute in which she rose to the occasion quite literally by saving a point blank header from Sinclair. Her low dive and parry in 61 minutes was also exceptional before an ensuing goalmouth melee.
Her distributions were a bit hit and miss as her balls didn’t always land at the intended target. Although Nigeria were haemorrhaging pressure in the first half, last gasp defending from the defenders meant Nnadozie was somewhat shielded.
That said, Nnadozie was always alert and seemed in command of her area. She never looked jittery or overawed. A seasoned professional, the Paris based net minded showed focus and had movements that ensured that ensured she well positioned. She had clarity in anticipation and often gestured to arrange and alert her back line to dangerous moments. She was beaten for Canada’s first goal but to her credit, she guessed right and dived to the right location, her leap just wasn’t high enough.
2. Toni Payne (6.5) as the left wingback made her presence felt on several occasions. She would often try to sprint with the ball and was always on the hunt for space to run into. She was a tad slow to get back into position as a timely slight tackle from her could her prevented Canada’s first goal. She was guilty of a few misplaced passes but 3 quick-fire interceptions – 2 of which were goalmouth clearances – from Payne prevent certain goals after goalkeeper Nnadozie was marooned.
In all, Toni showed maturity and bravery in the way she dispensed her duties. She showed offensive intent but with Nigeria constantly under the cosh, much of her efforts went under the radar. It would have been helpful to see many crosses from her but these weren’t forthcoming. A bit more composure could have served her better and she seemed to struggle to slot back into her piece of the defensive Lego after attacking forays, one of which cost Nigeria a goal. She nonetheless didn’t just dial in her performance; she was visible, active and very much dialled in.
3. Nicole Payne (6.5/10) was put under considerable pressure particularly in the first half as the Canadians subjected her redoubt to relentless pressure. The right full back executed an intelligent and eye popping sliding tackle to avert considerable danger. She too was also guilty of some unconvincing passes but one of her pass did find striker Onumonu who delivered a decent cross consequently. For a player under a barrage of pressure and often pressed by Canada strikers, Nicole showed admirable composure not to be cowed.
One of Nigeria’s highlight moments came from Nicole as she ploughed towards Canada’s 18 yard box from the right before cutting in on her left to unleash a Mephistophelean shot that left the goalkeeper scrambling in 67 minutes. That shot was goal bound all night long!
Nicole played her part to help Nigeria weather significant Canadian storm particularly in the first half. At times she seemed uncomfortable as a wingback but this wasn’t obvious to the naked eye. She put on a decent display defensively and helped Nigeria get on the front foot. Despite losing by 2:0, Nicole can be overly proud of her own efforts.
4. Ashleigh Plumptre (5.5/10) was often beaten for pace which was evident in the build up to Canada’s first goal. Her shortcomings with aerial balls also came to the fore in Canada’s second goal. But her recovery, when opportunity to recover a situation arises, is somewhat commendable for example when she recovered to poke the ball to a corner kick in 26 minutes. She also showed attacking intent in launching probing long balls to attackers to feast off. Particularly in 32 minutes when one of her probing balls located Onumonu.
In all, whilst Ashleigh can be applauded for decent positioning, speedy fleet footed Canadian strikers did leave her gasping for air in occasions. She scarcely seemed well positioned to make aerial clearance as she seemed to be chasing shadows at times. She narrowly stamped her authority on the match and much more eloquence would have been expected of an England-based defender. When Waldrum made defensive substitutions, communication between Ashleigh and her fellow defenders initially broke down before it picked up again.
But her focus, dedication and willingness can’t be questioned. Her markings and scanning applications are also commendable.
5. Onome Ebi (6/10) was commanding in her area but appeared to exhibit some match rustiness at times. Her passes were at times wayward and her efforts in preventing Canada’s first goal were fruitless. She did make an eloquent header clearance which was noteworthy.
Ebi displayed maturity in her play and she played her part in helping Nigeria batten down the hatches particularly in the first half. She provided a calming presence and for someone of her age, she has really honed her positioning which more than makes up for other diminishing-returns aspect of her game. She would look up in attempts at picking out delicate passes and seemed assured coordinating the back. She could still be around for at least another 12 months.
6. Glory Ogbonna (8/10) was like a tasmanian devil in the way she got stuck in and lunged into tackles, interceptions, blockages and clearances. This former Edo Queens centre back was by far the busiest of Nigeria’s centre back tonight as she put in a compelling, intense and hugely commendable shift in a manner that would have impressed her coach.
Very early in the first half, Glory had already made neat tackles and expertly executed headed clearances. She made some eyes catching interceptions and always seemed to be well positioned to be in the kernel of the action. One such occasion was in the second half when she was well positioned to control the ball before blasting it away to make a goal mouth clearance, a fitting climax to a fabulous all round performance. She was, in truth, guilty of a poor pass from deep that put Nigeria under pressure but that was just a minor wrinkle in an otherwise smooth 4 stars defensive display.
7. Rita Chikwelu (6/10) was simplicity personified. She kept her passes neat and tidy as she tried to help Nigeria transition from defence to attack. This legend was often well placed to shield the defensive line which made her impact less visible as she didn’t seem to always see the ball as the Canadians launched their assaults from the flanks.
Rita’s audacious long rang looping shot from well over 20 yards looked innocuous but easily have crept in.
Rita was very composed and did a lot of her good works without the ball. But with Nigeria struggling all night to gain foothold, get into their rhythm and dictate tempo, Rita was not on hand to wrest the midfield dominance away from the Canadians. She didn’t orchestrate many moves and wasn’t overly imaginative or creative. But what she did do, she did well.
8. Rasheedat Ajibade (6.5) unleashed a savage long range shot in 27 minutes that will be sending the goalkeeper to the hospital so her fingers and palms could be examined. The former youth international was often ganged up on by Canadian defenders but she would still manage to wriggle out of tight spots. She would help win back the ball before instigating attacking initiatives with neat short range passes. A delicate pass to Toni Payne in 7 minutes is particularly noteworthy as something worthwhile for Nigeria could have occurred.
Nigeria’s attacking initiatives weren’t allowed to breathe by the Canadians. Rasheedat struggled to make something out of the tight situations she found herself but she did fend off her markers on some occasions. She would often fall back to support in defensive duties. Overall, Rasheedat created her own notable moments. She was decisive in what she wanted to do and did her best to attempt to locate colleagues in promising positions. But her midfield engine-combo with Rita and Christine failed to generate meaningful wow moments in the way of interplay of passes.
9. Christie Ucheibe (6/10) performed her high pressing duties admirably. Without the ball, she did her best to help the team shape and ward off Canadian pressure. She did lose the ball on occasions and was guilty of ceding possession needlessly. Her delicate through pass in 30 minutes almost caused horror for the Canadians.
A major flaw in the design of the Super Falcons tonight was their inability to gain command of the midfield. Christie did her best but was unable to help Nigeria dictate the tempo of the match for long periods. Seeing either of Nigeria’s wingback try to flight with the ball suggests that more of that would have been expected of Christie. Her best efforts came off the ball but more was expected to help stem the tide of Canadian assault.
10. Uchenna Kanu (5/10) had to feed off scraps as she saw precious few of the ball in an offensive sense. Service to her was few and far between and her combo with Onumonu wasn’t allowed to flourish. She scarcely engaged in interplay of passes with her strike partner as they seemed like an awkward paring. She wasn’t involved in many noteworthy attacking manoeuvres but defensively, she was prominent. She could be seeing rushing back to support the full backs and trying to make clearances from Canadian corner kicks.
A neat 1 on 1 dribble by Kanu that resembles Moses Simon’s take-on was competently repulsed by her marker.
Though the tap of passes to her up front ran dry for lengthy periods, Kanu didn’t show much creativity, ingenuity or imagination to make Canadian defenders feel her presence. She did drop deep but it was mainly to support the defence. Kanu was capable of much more but limited passes to her and limited movements from her made her impact to be limited.
11. Ifeoma Onumonu (6.5/10) was never going to leave this game without making some impact despite Canada’s possession and relentless assaults. The strongly built centre forward drove into the 18 yard box to deliver a cross into a corridor of possibilities within 10 minutes. She later delivered a nice driven pass across to Ucheibe which held menace. Another of her crosses caused problems later on as the Canadians had to be on alert to second-guess her deliberately-erratic and unpredictable forward movements as she was always on the hunt to pounce.
Defensively, she tracked back to provide additional cover and in fact had a noteworthy headed clearance. She was fuming at Nicole Payne in the dying minutes because she (Ifeoma) wanted a different type of pass from what Nicole delivered.
Though she didn’t score, her impact was felt and you sense she was waiting for that big moment, that one defence splitting pass that never materialised.
Substitutes and Coach:
1. Tochukwu Oluehi (8.5/10) was in the form of her life to give the paying fans on both value for their money with breathtaking saves. She had absolutely no rights to put her ribs in danger and dive so dangerously low to punch away a sure banker goal from an acrobatic effort deep in the box 18 in 70 minutes. This is the sort of moment that underscores her reputation as one of the best, finest and most fabulous female goalkeepers in world football at this time. She made another save from the top draw in 84 minutes before making other routine saves to make her total saves no less than 5 for the moment she spent on the pitch.
2. Amanda Mbadi (6/10) made some clearances and was keen to get stuck in the action. She got injured at some point. Overall, she came in and did her best to help Nigeria repel some pressure later on.
3. Peace Efih (5/10) had to maintain her discipline to fit into the shape of the team.
4. Michelle Alozie (5.5/10) was never going to leave the match without making any sort of impact. The vivacious wingback had the time to deliver at least one telling pass and she also provided herself as an outlet for potentially passes from deep. She still needs to acuminate her defensive repertoire.
5. Onyi Echegini (5.5/10) was another Falcon determined to leave an impact despite coming in as a sub. Her glorious shot-cum-shot was a comfortable catch for the Canadian keeper in the end but it could have caused much headache. She seemed rather composed in possession and comfortable with ball to feet. There was enough time for her to deliver a troublesome cross. It will be fascinating to see her as a starter.
6. Coach Randy Waldrum (5/10) continues to find it difficult to concoct potent tactical potion which will knock out opponents that are higher than Nigeria in the Fifa rankings. He seems to elect for 5-3-2 formation against more formidable teams but this hasn’t stopped his team from being placed under huge pressure neither has the formation prevented America and Canada from scoring goals.
Randy’s Angels were unable to dictate the tempo for long periods and they were not allowed to settle into a rhythm by the Canadians. He appeared to deploy 2 defensive midfielders yet the Canadians found joy in this area. Despite playing wing backs, the Canadians still pummelled Nigeria’s wingback areas with relentless assault. He had no answer to Canadian tiki-taka as the North Americans ran rings around the Super Falcons with delicate interplay of passes.
Nigeria were unable to make meaningful use of their corner kick routines while Canada scored one goal with theirs. Nigeria couldn’t do much to allow their own rhythm to breathe or flourish. The Super Falcons had decent defensive movements but up front, they relied on brute force and long range efforts to try to force issue. Nigeria couldn’t dictate the tone for long periods and the blending wasn’t always evident. Their routines either didn’t work much or wasn’t overly ironed out. Their pacing was laboured and transitioning to attack wasn’t always seamless. Nigeria were by no means a well oiled or well drill machine as there were creaks and cracks in several areas their game.
But the Super Falcons were very committed to the course. All of the players gave it their all and were willing to get stuck in. They were passionate and patriotic. They seem motivated and willing not to just roll back and take a bashing, no, Randy’s Angels delivered some telling blows of their own and can hold their heads high for “effort and desire” at the end of the day even if the formation and lack of tactical ingenuity let them down.
Nigeria may rule Africa again, but on this evidence, they are not remotely ready to rule the world.
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