Nigeria coach Randy Waldrum believes knocking European champions England out of the Women’s World Cup would be “transformational” for the sport in the country as the sides prepare to meet in the last 16 on Monday.
The Super Falcons have appeared at every Women’s World Cup going back to the inaugural edition in 1991 but their build-up to this year’s tournament was overshadowed by a row with their national federation over bonuses.
They had even threatened to boycott their opening game but put that behind them to draw with Olympic champions Canada and then beat co-hosts Australia.
A draw with the Republic of Ireland then ensured that they qualified for the last 16 at the expense of Canada and set up a clash with strongly-fancied England in Brisbane.
“It would be a huge win, obviously,” Waldrum said Sunday when asked about what knocking out England would signify.
“Already with what we have accomplished Nigeria is buzzing again, from what I understand.
“I don’t think people expected us to get out of the group and to get the results we have got, so I think it has already been a big success.
“But obviously if you can not only beat the Olympic gold medallists but turn around and beat the European champions then it would be something extremely special back home for all the people in Nigeria, and more importantly for this squad, for what they have worked so hard to do.
“So it certainly could be transformational in a lot of different ways.”
‘So many weapons’
It is the third time that Nigeria have made it out of their group at the World Cup but they have never won a knockout tie.
Waldrum confirmed that star striker Asisat Oshoala is “fit and healthy” and said fellow forward Desire Oparanozie could feature for the first time since picking up an injury before the tournament.
He also said he was preparing his team to face an England side with, or without, Keira Walsh after the star midfielder missed the Lionesses’ last group game with a knee injury.
Walsh trained with the squad on Sunday for the first time since being stretchered off in England’s 1-0 win over Denmark in their second group game.
But England coach Sarina Wiegman could opt to stick with the three-woman defence which helped them outclass China 6-1 without Walsh, or revert to a back four.
“We have to prepare for both,” Waldrum said of the different tactical possibilities.
“As a coach I would expect her to go with a back three because they played ever so well in the last match with that and I don’t know why she would change.”
Of Walsh, he added: “Obviously she is a key player in their midfield for them.”
“But England also has so many weapons. You go down the list and you look at their players and all of them play in a high-profile setting so there are certainly more that can do damage to us than just her.
“They have given us a lot of challenges to prepare for and that will be just another one if she comes in.”