Mercy Akide-Udoh wants African Champions the Nigerian Super Falcons to go out there and have a strong belief in themselves before every match. “They must realise they are representing themselves as individuals, their families, their country and the rest of Africa. They must play as a team as this tournament is bigger than one person”
Nigeria’s goalscoring heroine of the 1999 World Cup, Akide-Udoh, speaking exclusively to www.aclsports.com from her Virginia, US home does not want to put any pressure on the team of even thinking of winning the FIFA Women’s World Cup (FIFAWWC 2019). “I know the Federation have been doing their best in terms of preparations for this World Cup but it is not even nearly good enough in comparison to other countries. The US have been on a 3 month proper programme for instance”.
The first ever winner of the African Footballer of the Year Award back in 2001 recalls preparations for the 1999 tournament “We were together and travelled around playing matches for a whole month.” That 1999 still represents Nigeria’s best efforts at the FIFA Women’s World Cup as the team made it to the quarter-final with Ismaila Mabo as the coach.
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Apart from playing at World Cups, Akide-Udoh is still the only Nigerian footballer to have scored at 2 Olympics Football tournaments (Australia 2000 and Athens 2004) so she knows the pressures of playing for Nigeria “When the National Anthem is being played before the start of the game you just zone out. You start to think about the game more and remember the many people back home cheering for you. It is a time to focus on the task ahead. It is also one of the most incredible feeling knowing you are representing your country – it is the place to be as a top athlete”.
The Super Falcons first group game is against Norway in Reims on June the 8th. It is a very tough group that includes Hosts France and South Korea who open the tournament a day earlier. “The players must not be nervous” is Mercy Akide-Udoh’s advice from experience to the Super Falcons, “they must enjoy the moment as that will enable them be focused in matches”.
How can this team be able to equal the record of the 1999 team? “They are in a very difficult group so I believe the best way to get round and through this is for them to be defensive first. Hold your ground, hold the point from the start and give nothing away” that is the thinking of the Head Coach with Regent’s University Women’s Soccer team. Akide-Udoh is the DOC of Rush’s Soccer Club and in charge the U12 and U16 girls.
“Any team that is able to defend can always get a goal. They need to work really hard on the defence as the times I have watched the Super Falcons I have been worried about their defence. I know Asisat (Oshoala) will make the country and herself proud but she alone can’t do it. Hopefully Desire (Oparanozie), Francesca (Ordega) will complement all that the Barcelona forward will bring to the team”.
Still on the defence set-up, she wants Skipper Onome Ebi to be more disciplined in her role “I know she likes attacking but this time she needs to be disciplined and organise the defence line and keep the shape. She is at the stage now where if the defence falters she just might be blamed”.