"This was one of the best" - Nnadozie recounts Super Falcons' high-low journey to World Cup history

"This was one of the best" - Nnadozie recounts Super Falcons' high-low journey to World Cup history

Imhonlamhen Eronmhonsele
  • Many Nigerian fans did not know what to expect of the Super Falcons when the team landed in Australia for the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup.

Most expected the team to stumble at the first hurdle, especially given the happenings around the team leading to the global showpiece. No team goes through that many storms and remains unscathed.

The Falcons lost their continental crown to South Africa at the Women's Africa Cup of Nations, finishing in a disappointing fourth position.

The team then lost seven straight games between July 2022 and February this year to further erode public confidence to an all-time low.

There was a bit of respite in April as the coach Randy Waldrum-tutored side put together a three-game winning streak.

But things further degenerated when the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, cancelled the team's 12-day camp in Abuja and sent them to Australia without an official friendly match in three months.

And there were reports that the Falcons' camp was in disarray, and the team was planning to boycott their first match at the Mundial after coach Waldrum and the NFF got into a messy public fight over unpaid salaries and bonuses.

Add to that the fact that Nigeria - the lowest-ranked team in Group B - had been billed to face Olympic champions Canada, co-hosts Australia, and sturdy debutants the Republic of Ireland, and it appeared that the former African queens were a disaster waiting to happen.

But amidst the chaos, goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie saw a Super Falcons team unbothered by the unwholesome events and ready for the challenge ahead.

In a chat with EaglesTracker, Nnadozie revealed that while many were worried about the team's seemingly lack of preparation, she and her mates "were just smiling and laughing because we know what we are made of. We know we were together. We know a lot of people were behind us, supporting us. We know what we can do. We knew what we wanted to go there and do."

And for the Paris FC star, the show of love towards the team from Nigerians in Brisbane was unlike anything she had ever witnessed with the Falcons.

"For the past six or seven years I've been with the national team, this was one of the best so far, I must tell you," Nnadozie noted.

"Right from the first day, we stepped our feet into Brisbane, it's been amazing. We felt at home. For one day, we never thought we were outside Nigeria. There were Nigerians everywhere in the hotel. It was as if Nigerians were the owners of the hotel.

"Everywhere green-white-green flag, green and white balloons. Whenever we returned from training, they would line up clapping for us. It was amazing."

While it was good to feel the backing of compatriots, it would not be the only thing needed to avoid a defeat to Canada in Nigeria's opening match. The Canadians were the clear favourites.

They had defeated the Falcons [2-0] in April last year and arrived at the Mundial as the Olympic gold medallists.

Still, Nnadozie recalled that none of these fazed her and her mates.

"We were never scared of Canada. We respect them; we love them. But then we were so ready for them," Nnadozie said.

Remarkably, the Super Falcons held their own against Canada, forcing the North Americans to a goalless draw. The match's highlight was when Nnadozie stopped a second-half penalty from Canadian legend Christine Sinclair.

It was the perfect time for the 22-year-old shot-stopper to remind the world that she is the best goalkeeper in Africa.

Despite the impressive point earned against Canada, the Falcons were still given very little chance against matchday two opponents and tournament co-hosts, Australia. Even by many Nigerian fans.

Even Nnadozie noticed. "When we entered the stadium (for the Australia match), everywhere was yellow-green. Even the Nigerian fans were hiding; we could not see them."

What fans did not know, however, was that the Super Falcons were exactly where they wanted to be - as the underdogs.

"The game against Australia was the easiest for us," Nnadozie continued. "We were so hungry to play them. We knew we were going to play against the whole nation. But our dressing room was fire. People don't know what we do in there. My girls, I love them so much. I love the mentality; I love the mindset; I love the spirit, the big heart. We fear nobody.

"That was the biggest game we were waiting for."
It turned out to be one of the most unforgettable days for Nigeria at the Women's World Cup as the Super Falcons came from behind to beat Australia [3-2] in Brisbane.

Nnadozie then became the first African goalkeeper to keep two clean sheets in the same edition of the World Cup when she helped Nigeria to a goalless draw in the last group match against Ireland.

Four years ago, Nnadozie entered the record books as the youngest goalkeeper to keep a clean sheet at the Mundial. Still, the former Rivers Angels star reveals she never targets records; they chase her.

Nigeria qualified as Group B runners-up with a win and two draws, becoming the first African side to avoid defeat in the group stage of the Women's World Cup.

Reigning European champions and Group D winners, England waited for the Falcons in the Round of 16.

Again, Nnadozie stopped the English Ladies from scoring against her as a discipline Nigerian side battled to a goalless draw. It was the first time in 19 games that the European queens would fail to find the back of the net.

Interestingly, Nigeria were the better team for the most part, missing a couple of scoring chances and hitting the post a few times before losing on penalties to the Three Lionesses.

England have beaten all-comers since then to reach the final for the first time. A disappointed Nnadozie believed Nigeria would have enjoyed a similar run if the Falcons had overcome the Lionesses.

"After the penalties, I was heartbroken," Nnadozie confessed. "The goal was to go to the quarterfinal, and to the semifinal, in fact, to the final. We already had a vest - Go for Gold!

"We were so ready. We were determined to reach the final, even if the world does not believe in us."

And despite the early exit from the competition, Nnadozie remains convinced that the "Super Falcons are the best team in the world. She notes that "the world will see more of us, I promise. This is not the end. We are just getting started."

After the Super Falcons' excellent showings in their four matches, the team's most skeptical and critical fans had turned to die-hard supporters.

It is a turnaround that shocks even Nnadozie, who was a member of the 2018 AWCON winning team.

"Since I've been playing football, this is the first time I'm seeing the whole nation supporting the Super Falcons. The love, support, and encouragement was so real.

"Normally, when we lose games, you will see a lot of comments online. (This time) I've not seen one negative comment. Please, don't stop. We promise to always make the nation proud and put smiles on your faces."

The Super Falcons will get to do just that when they reclaim their continental crown at next year's African Championships.

The team will begin their qualification campaign for that tournament with a home game against Sao Tome And Principe in September.

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