Monday, July 4, 2011

Rain Disrupts Super Falcons Training In Dresden,Opinions on the Way Forward For Nigerian Women's Soccer

Rain in Dresden has not allowed Super Falcons to prepare adequately for their last group game against Canada in the on-going FIFA Women's World Cup.

The team arrived the Eastern part of Germany on Friday from Frankfurt and have been lodged in Maritim Hotel by FIFA ahead of Tuesday's encounter.
However, not much has been achieved by the team due to the constant rain.  
The cold weather put at 16 degrees centigrade is also not helping matters.

“We were to train twice yesterday both in the morning and evening going by the FIFA itinerary but we could only train once which was in the evening because of the rain,” explained Falcons coach, Uche Eucharia.

The coach was expecting Dresden to have the same weather condition with that of Frankfurt which was the venue of their second match.

“Although it was colder in Austria during our training tour over here we never expected that it was going to be like this. We were expecting a similar weather like that of Frankfurt,” she added.
Uche  however stated that the team would train this morning and evening irrespective of what happens.

"We are here for a competition so we cannot give room for excuses. On the day of the match we cannot tell FIFA that we would abandon the game if it rains," she added.
By Ejiro Femi-Babafemi

Before the Super Falcons get a visit from the hangman

High expectations can sometimes lead to unbearable pressure, and inadvertently failure, as is the case with the Super Falcons at the ongoing FIFA Women's World Cup in Germany.

Failure is probably the wrong way to put it as there has been a lot of positives to take away from the national team's opening two games against France and Germany.

For a side many had tipped to not only crash out of the first round of the World Cup but to do so on the back of embarrassing losses to the French and the Germans, the Super Falcons have surprised all.

They only lost by a lone goal to their more esteemed opponents and even at that, churned out impressive performances on both occasions especially in last Thursday's loss to the Germans in Frankfurt.

Although the Falcons appeared to lose steam against the French when it mattered the most, after going down to a second half strike, against the Germans it was an entirely different approach from the Nigerians as they matched the Germans grit for grit and skill for skill.

Had they been more precise in front of goal, or more resolute at the back when it mattered the most, the game's final outcome could had been different.

But in a country where success is only measured by the number of victories and titles a team carts home, the performance of the Super Falcons thus far in Germany is most likely to come under criticism from a number of self-acclaimed ‘experts' of the game.

But even at that, the Super Falcons exposed the frailty of the Germans so much that doubts are beginning to creep in regarding the ability of the Germans to actually defend their title and make it three World Cup titles on the trot.

So impressive were they on the night that the team's handler Eucharia Uche, pointed out that with a "little input", the Nigerian women's team "can rule the world." And it is an opinion that concurs with that held by Bola Jegede, a former Nigeria Football Federation board member, and current president of the Female Football Foundation (FFF).

Fantastic ladies

"We lost to France by the slimmest of margins and limited a German side that had a few months back defeated us to just a goal, so I am very proud of these ladies," said Jegede recalling last November's 8-0 loss to the Germans in a friendly match played in Leverkusen.

"They are fantastic ladies and as their mom, I am very proud of them," continued Jegede who was the owner of former women's league outfit, Jegede Babes, and who was one of the pioneers of women's football in Nigeria.

She added: "Considering the level of opposition they came up against, this team lost gallantly. The French were lucky to get that goal, the Germans never believed what they saw and against Canada (on Tuesday) I believe they will emerge victorious." The FFF is the nongovernmental organisation which has in recent weeks been in the forefront of the pursuit for more recognition to be accorded to women's football.

In a country where women's football is far from being accorded the same level of recognition as the men's game, the FFF aims to bridge the gap.

Although Nigerian male age-grade teams have remained dominant on both the continent and on the global stage, the last time the senior national team, the Super Eagles, won a continental title was as far back as 1994 at that year's Africa Cup of Nations.

Between then and now, the Super Falcons have won as many as seven continental titles and have been to every FIFA Women's World Cup to date beginning with the inaugural edition back in China in 1991, which was even three years before the Super Eagles made their World Cup debut.

Some measure of success has also been achieved by the country's women's age-grade teams, most notably the Falconets who finished an impressive second at last year's FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Germany.

Giving honour to whom it's due

Of course, in the tradition of the Nigerian government, the teams have been rewarded for bringing glory to their fatherland, but unlike their male counterparts who get lavished with incredible prizes ranging from cash to houses, as well as national honours, the ladies don't get as much.

They sometimes even get to be conveyed on unbefitting open-air trucks as was the case when the Super Falcons returned last November from South Africa with the African Women Championship (AWC) trophy.

Even after the team returned from South Africa, it will be recalled that there were promises to get the team quality friendly matches and training camps ahead of their preparation for the World Cup.

But none of these materialised except for the infamous international friendly against the Germans in Leverkusen. The only other games the team got to play in the months following the AWC, at least some members of the team got to play, were qualifying matches of the All-Africa Games and Olympic Games.

Is one month enough?

It wasn't until slightly over a month ago that the NFF finally got to send the team to a training camp in Austria where the team got to play some friendly matches against teams from Slovakia, Austria, the Czech Republic as well as local Austrian women club sides.

They even got to play against Under-17 boys selections and for this the NFF has been receiving praise - and even showering encomiums on themselves - for the "unprecedented" training programme lined up for the African champions.

Even the team's coach, Eucharia Uche, heaped praises on the NFF stating that her team "has had the best preparation of any Nigerian team at the FIFA Women's World Cup." But what else were we expecting her to say of her employers?

Between the conclusion of the 2007 Women's World Cup in China and the start of the ongoing tournament, the Super Falcons played just under 30 matches in the four years since the end of the last World Cup.

For their part, the French played a total of 45 Grade-A games; the Germans got to play 47 games in addition to some lesser friendly matches, while the Canadians got to play an impressive 60 Grade-A matches. The North Americans even got to camp in Italy for the two-month period leading up to the tournament.

But what else would one expect from a country where women's football takes prominence over the men's game? In fact, members of the Canadian women's national team are better known than the men's.

Another fact is that after Canada was awarded the hosting rights for the 2015 World Cup even more people have turned their attention to the women's team in a country where around 568,000 women and girls play organised football. Canada's population is just under 34 million.

"What is so special about training the team for one month? What are they (NFF) even ready to do for them when they get back home because the Olympics is just around the corner," queried Jegede.

"Let me guess," she retorted, "they will give them transport money back to their base, call them to camp two weeks to the Olympics and then book them into a hotel that is unbefitting for the national team.

"They have to do better for these ladies because these are talented ladies who take delight in playing for Nigeria even though they get insulted and abused by men in the process," she added.

A coaching problem

A coach is as good as his (or her) last result, goes a common saying within football circles. If that holds water in Nigeria, then there is a good chance that the NFF will in the foreseeable future be relieving Uche of her duties with the national team.

Yes, the former international led the Super Falcons to the AWC title and has only suffered a handful of losses to date, but with the level of performance churned out by the team so far in Germany, anyone (well, almost anyone) can see that with some technical input and variation to the team's approach, rather than the traditional 4-4-2 that every Nigerian coach gets to learn at the National Institute of Sports, Lagos, the Nigerian side can go places.

Add a number of quality friendly matches from the stable of the men's football-loving NFF into the equation and the Super Falcons will in no time be ranked among the top-10 teams in the world - a far cry from their present 27th ranking.

The Super Falcons had previously been handled by men coaches such as Paul Hamilton, Ismaila Mabo and Joseph ‘Jossy Lad' Ladipo, as well as Sam Okpodu. But of these lot, only Okpodu specialised in the handling of women players, and still does so to date in the United States of America.

A foreign coach has never handled the Super Falcons even though they are in Germany with a certain Thomas Obliers who, however, is a physical trainer.

Obliers' impact has surely been felt as the ladies have displayed a level of stamina that is uncharacteristic of the Nigerian team at the global stage, but for the Super Falcons to fulfil their potential, a world-class coach is needed urgently.

"Nigeria is big enough to employ a world-class coach," continued Jegede. "We are not saying the local coaches are not good enough but we need quality coaches for the team, and he or she doesn't necessarily have to be a Nigerian.

She added: "Uche has done her best, but someone else needs to come in for the team to move to the next level." That next level, in Jegede's opinion, will see the Super Falcons taking their dominance of the African game onto the world stage and competing for honours four years from now at the next World Cup in Canada.
Over to you, NFF!

By Ifeanyi Ibeh

Falcons - Go Back to the Basics, Amiesimaka Tells NFF

Adokiye, who predicted that the Falcons may not go beyond the group stage in the competition following their poor preparation and foundation for the competition, said: "Did I not tell you that the Nigerian team would go nowhere? The beat goes on and we will continue to fool ourselves.

Continuing he said: "Back to the basics is the answer. Articulate a proper development programme; catch them young by using the school system and collaborating with the education sector; take the promising ones through that programme with regulated training, regular local competitions and early exposure to international experience; then see the difference.

"As long as we continue to live in fool's paradise and neglect doing the needful, football glory will keep its distance from us, take it or leave it," he said.

By Kate Obodo

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