Nigeria’s Super Falcons face one of the FIFA Women’s World Cup’s pre-tournament favourites, Germany in the first round of 16 encounter of this year’s tournament in Grenoble on Saturday afternoon without two key members of the team; midfielder Rita Chikwelu and forward Asisat Oshoala.
Chikwelu (Left) is suspended due to two yellow cards while Oshoala is ruled out to a hamstring injury; add that to the absence of left back Ngozi Ebere who was sent off against France and the Falcons will be without three regulars for the uphill task against the Germans.
While Nigeria waited until the last kick of the group stage before confirming their progress, Germany qualified in style and wrapped up the group phase with an emphatic 4-0 defeat of South Africa. To stand a chance against the Europeans who many believe have not been very impressive in this year’s tournament, Dennerby must get the right replacements for these players.
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A lot will in the first place depend on the tactics the Swede will deploy for the game as no one is sure of the next one he would roll up his gentle sleeves. Nigeria played a 352 against Norway, 433 against South Korea and 442 against France in their group games.
“We didn’t have that much time to prepare the tacticals for the game but of course we have like a base (of tactics) for all teams so we have to go back there,” Dennerby said on Friday.
“Germany are a very good team, very well organised, working hard, play the game in high pace. They’re a really really good team but I’m also happy that they don’t have top strikers like Birgit Prinz that they had years ago that can change a game on her own but still have good players like (Alexander) Popp,” added the Swede.
In Ebere’s absence and with Faith Ikidi ruled out of the tournament, there is no specialised full back in the team anymore and Dennerby must decide on converting one of his left footed attacking players – Chinwendu Ihezuo and Ogonna Chukwudi – or perhaps opting for a more defensive change in Osinachi Ohale, a centre back while Evelyn Nwabuoku goes to centre back.
In midfield, Chikwelu’s absence will leave an opportunity for either of Chinaza Uchendu, Amarachi Okoronkwo or perhaps Rasheedat Ajibade while Oshoala – who has not particularly had a good tournament anyways – may see her position betrothed to Uchenna Kanu.
The wild cards
Dennerby is a manager known not to be scared of trying something unexpected. It would therefore not be surprising if players like Alice Ogebe and Anam Imo get a look-in for whatever role the head coach might want to have for them.
African champions Nigeria are without doubts the underdogs going into Saturday’s game but their hope of causing a long lasting upset rests firmly in the unfazed arms of Thomas Dennerby who has rather more luckily masterminded Nigeria’s second ever knockout appearance at the World Cup.