Nigeria’s Super Falcons showed courage, endeavour and character to twice take the lead against Olympics champions Canada in this morning’s concluding friendly match. But, not to be embarrassed in front of their home fans, the Canadians dug deep to profit from Nigeria's mistake before showing their quality with a well worked second goal in the dying minutes to ensure both teams shared the spoils.
A cheeky back-flip from Onumonu had given Nigeria the lead in the 5th minute before a glorious lob from Sinclair in 49 minutes made it 1:1. Nigeria had tried to play out from the back but the move was horribly executed before resulting in Canada’s goal.
Undeterred, the Super Falcons made it 2:1 from Ajibade’s cross from the left that somehow evaded everyone. But Canada’s own cross from the right did land kindly for Zadorsky who made no mistake with an exquisite header in 88 minutes to make it 2:2.
So, what did we find out about Waldrum’s team?
Well, they are still yet to record a win against teams higher than them in the FIFA rankings but, my goodness they came ever so close this morning. I was left satisfied with what I saw because I am unsure they could have done any better. Okay, Nnadozie and Ebi should never have attempted playing from the back but you can’t knock a team for trying to do something different. After all, that is what friendly matches are there for: to experiment.
If Nigeria hadn’t conceded that silly goal and managed to make it 2:0, then it would have been a tricky encounter for Canada navigate.
I was quite interested to see what technical and tactical themes that the Super Falcons would sought to address in order to draw a picture of their identity under Waldrum. This game provided plentiful materials to be able to predict how the Super Falcons are likely to approach such encounters going into the future.
Apart from the game itself, I absolutely love the idea of Canada using these games to prepare for the future whilst paying homage to their immediate past. The atmosphere in the stadium was so joyous and family-like and the Nigerian ladies weren’t made to feel like adversaries. They were treated like esteemed guests which made me so happy and made the experience of watching these games well worthwhile. It was indeed aptly named the “Celebration Tour”.
The day started with awards being given to certain Canadian players on the pitch. Then, the players to face Nigeria were called to the pitch one by one to the adulation of their adoring fans. Each one received a rousing round of applause. Our players then came to the pitch together with a warm round of applause from the whole stadium. Then, the entire stadium stood up in a mark of respect when our national anthem was played; I loved every minute of it and the match hadn’t even started. Then all the fans in the stadium followed the Canadian players in singing their national anthem together. It was a moving and emotional environment.
Then the match, I was a bit surprised that Waldrum kept faith with his 3-5-2 formation. I thought he would try his 4-3-3 used in Afcon qualifiers however it became apparent to me that, against superior opponents, the American will elect for 3-5-2. Ordega came in meaning Kanu played from deep. Alozie replaced N. Payne and much to my surprise, defensive linchpin Glory Ogbonna was jettisoned from the starting 11: she carried me along with her sturdy display from the first game.
As the game started, the female Canadian commentator said she expected an uneven game as the Canadians would easily whitewash the Super Falcons. As if the Nigerian ladies on the pitch heard what she said, Onumonu contrived with Payne to make her eat her words in just 5 minutes with a deft cross and an indolent back flip; 1:0 to Nigeria. The stadium was stunned but, admirably, they maintained their positive vibes never once showing contempt for Nigeria or discontent towards their own team.
But the lady commentator remained sombre for much of the first half which humoured me.
With a goal down, the Canadians pushed and probed for their equaliser but the Super Falcons remained resolute. Even at that point, I was very much concerned that Canada were stretching the Super Falcons and were delivering delicate crosses. The Super Falcons couldn’t live with the pressing of the Canadians. Once we have the ball, they will coral around our players like a rash, forcing them, to concede possession. Little wonder the possession stats ended with Canada having 71% against our 29%.
But, the inability to develop a work-around for Canada’s pressing and also the inability to prevent crosses would eventually prove to be a lethal handicap for Super Falcons.
But early on, the players were all putting in a fantastic performance: Ajibade was forcing the issue in midfield; Uchenna Kanu was making a nuisance of herself across the pitch; Ordega was falling back to support defensive efforts; Ebi was rolling back to years to make a wide variety of tackles and clearances; and Ashleigh Plumptre was making a case for herself to be the woman of the match with solid all round defensive play.
The other players were all getting stuck in; nobody was phoning in their performance. They all played with focus, drive and dedication. But in truth, the Canadians were better. They have superior technical abilities and were able to carve out neat scoring opportunities as the Super Falcons played to their strength in being physical and foiling Canada’s plans with solid defensive play right across the pitch.
As the first half wore on, Nnadozie was making some truly exemplary and breath-taking saves and Ajibade (playing like the legendary Nwankwo Kanu) was using her body to draw free kicks. Alozie was also prominent with her throw ins and defensive efforts. Canada dictated the tempo (because, let’s face it, they are better technical ball carriers) as the Super Falcons struggled to string passes together.
As the first half drew to a close, the Super Falcons were battered but they weren’t bruised.
They did more of repelling the Canadians who launched assaults after assaults on Nigeria’s goal area. My summary of the first half was that a more clinical team would have nicked a goal against Nigeria. Our inability to create clear cut chances was tactile.
In the second half, Uchenna Kanu almost stunned the stadium with her venomous shot from long range which drew a save from the goalkeeper.
But Nigeria had to press the self-destruct button when their effort to play out from behind was slow and laboured which played into the hands of Canada’s high press strategy as Ebi was dispossessed and Nnadozie was lobbed way out of her goal post. Again, I respect the fact they were trying something new but it just undermined all their good defensive work of the first half.
However, despite conceding that goal, something had changed in the Falcons approach; they were more daring and willing to take the fight to Canada. Little wonder Ajibade’s deceptive cross ended up in the net in 52 minutes to give Nigeria a most unlikely 2:1 lead. Again, for me, credit goes to the Canada fans who would not allow anything ruin their evening as they remained cheery and buoyant despite seeing their team fall behind twice.
After that goal, Nigeria were again forced to being defensive as the Canadian schemed and dug deep to find the equaliser and probably turn the tide completely with their winning goal.
As the half wore on, Ebi was heading balls away, Nnadozie was called to action severally, Rasheedat again used her body to be a nuisance and Plumptre was having the game of her life in Nigeria colours with movements, interceptions, clearances and long balls. Now, the problem about being so defensive is that when Onumonu or Ordega had the ball, support wasn’t often close by meaning Nigeria’s attacking moves broke down severally.
As resolute as Nigeria were, really, they couldn’t live with the pressings of Canada and Canadian 1 – 2 manoeuvres were allowing them access to Nigerian delicate areas. Plus, it was taking last ditch defending to repel Canadian crosses and attempted headers or volleys. Nigeria did make some attacking forays with Ucheibe’s long range shot and some nice crosses from Alozie.
But inevitably, it was Canada who scored after one of their many crosses from right wing found Zadorsky who headed home with aplomb in 88 minutes. In fact, Canada did seem like adding to that lead but Nigeria hung on for a famous 2:2 draw.
It is difficult for me to criticise Waldrum in this game. I have to be honest, based on what I saw, the Canadians were better individually and as a team. Waldrum set his ladies up to neutralise Canadian threats and to make the best use of the precious few opportunities that came their way. That said, I think he should work on the team to prevent crosses into delicate areas. Also, he should look for ways where Nigeria can carve out chances against superior oppositions. By having 2 wing backs, the midfield battle is often lost. Plus, Nigeria’s wing backs are often too high up the pitch to prevent crosses.
As admirable as their effort was, Waldrum has only succeeded in showing that the Super Falcons will struggle to win more technically endowed side. In Africa, I expect them to reign supreme. In world football, I do see much progress but more needs to be done.