For the first time in 12 CAF Women’s Nations Cup editions, Nigeria’s women’s national team, the Super Falcons, lost three matches.
Nine days after WAFCON, England’s national women’s football team, Three Lionesses, also won the European Cup for the first time.
These two occurrences have similarities and differences.
While Nigeria’s Super Falcons are perennial African champions and sought to maintain their dominance, the English were the almost champions seeking to be champions.
While the English FA hired a proven winner in Sarah Wiegman, the Nigeria Football Federation hired Randy Waldrum.
Waldrum is currently University of Pittsburgh’s women’s football team coach. Trinidad and Tobago also sacked him as their women’s coach in 2016.
The outcomes have demonstrated the effectiveness and strategy behind both hires. England is the European champion, while Nigeria is still licking their wounds from a sloppy strategy.
A penalty shootout loss to Morocco in the semi-final was followed by a 2-1 loss to South Africa on the first day. Zambia also defeated the Falcons 1-0 in the third-place match.
While the performance of Coach Waldrum has caused disagreement between fans and administrators, it will be beneficial for all parties to review all aspects of building a winning team.
These include the tactical abilities of both the manager and the players, as well as an examination of the NFF’s administrative acumen.
The first question must be about the team’s composition—how the coaching staff chose the squad. Individual players do not win tournaments; however, there may be some exceptional players whose skills can help the team win.
The best teams have highly coordinated plays, both with and without the ball.
They also respond to opponents in ways that the entire team has discussed, planned, and agreed upon.
As a result, we now have video departments, where people study opponents and use their findings to prepare the team for combat. Waldrum made some mistakes in his selection of players.
This is not a criticism of the players chosen, but the coach could have done better.
Starting Rita Chikwelu against South Africa was a huge blunder. The 34-year-old midfielder was too slow against the more nimble-footed South Africans, and she couldn’t get into positions to counter or initiate attacks quickly.
Assist Oshoala, Ifeoma Onumonu, and Rasheedat Ajibade were cut from the team and struggled to create any meaningful offensive opportunities.
Chikwelu’s large position (graphic below) against South Africa showed her isolation from both the defence and the attack, effectively denying Nigeria a launching pad for any attack.
Chikwelu made two successful tackles in 226 minutes of action in Morocco, compared to Ucheibe’s ten in 371 minutes. Ucheibe also scored against Botswana, demonstrating her ability to defend and attack.
She was also many pundits’ pick of player of the tournament for her all-action performances.
The same thing happened when Chikwelu replaced the injured Ucheibe in the third-place game against Zambia. The No.10 has served Nigeria for 15 years and it is time to say farewell or retire.
We expect a coach to make tough choices, and this should have been one of them. The selection of Onumonu ahead of Gift Monday has also enraged many Nigerian fans.
The U.S.-based Onumonu performed well, but many wondered why the locally based Monday was not given more minutes.
Another No.9, Desire Oparozie, was notably absent from the squad, even though being China-based was the plausible reason.
Despite having so many talented and quick forwards, the Falcons did not score a breakaway goal. The offensive penetration was at best, haphazard.
There were so many lobbed balls from either Onome Ebi or Osinachi Ohale to open up opponents’ defences that the coaching staff lacked a comprehensive attack training regimen.
Except for the semi-final against Morocco, where the Falcons were reduced to nine men, they had more possession in all WAFCON matches.
The Falcons scored nine goals in Morocco, but many of them were not the result of a well-coordinated offensive strategy.
It was a scrambled goal against South Africa. Perhaps the first goal against Botswana was more obvious; the second came from a corner kick. Burundi won 4-0 thanks to one penalty and Rasheedat Ajibade’s inventive goal-scoring creative ability.
The idea of pressing from the front was present, but it was not coordinated. This means that it was discussed but not drilled into the team during practice.
Most modern coaches employ the full-press principle, but not all teams are well-coached to use it consistently. Nigeria was the latter in Morocco.
When the opponent is well analysed, then the management team can prepare their players for creating pressure points on the adjudged weakest opponent in order to trigger a steal.
South Africa was the best team Nigeria faced at WAFCON 2022. The Desiree Ellis-coached team could play around the Nigeria press almost every time they used it in the first match.
It was more effective against neophytes in Burundi and Botswana. Nigeria scored six times without conceding in the two matches.
In their 2009 study “Tactical Principles of Soccer: Concepts and Application,” authors Israel Teoldo da Costa, Jlio Manuel Garganta da Silva, Pablo Juan Greco, and Isabel Mesquita discussed the game’s phases of play, goals, and fundamental tactical tenets.
“We separated attacks, defences, and transitions between attacks and defences. Simply put, the team must aim for numerical superiority when attacking, avoid numerical equality throughout the two transitions, and avoid numerical inferiority when defending.”
Nigeria met none of the scenarios outlined above in Morocco. They appeared unprepared and incapable of devising solutions to the problems posed by Africa’s emerging forces. How will they respond in the 2023 World Cup against teams like European champions England?
Godwin Izilein, a former Super Falcons coach, told the News Agency of Nigeria, “The girls couldn’t have given more than what they have.” Simply put, they did what and how they were trained to do on the field of play.
“If the coach had been a local, his dismissal would have been announced right in Morocco.”
NFF, it’s your call!