FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023: Nigeria, Australia clash assumes huge importance

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Thursday’s encounter between the Super Falcons of Nigeria and the Matildas of Australia has assumed high importance for both teams following the declaration of Matildas’ defender Charlie Grant that the Aussies have a good idea of how to cage the Super Falcons.

Grant said on Monday that the Republic of Ireland sat deep in the two teams’ clash at Stadium Australia on the opening day of the tournament, but that she would expect the Super Falcons to play more adventurously at the Lang Park on Thursday evening.

Nigeria captain Onome Ebi said the nine-time African champions have no reason to reveal their strategy for the game, but they would certainly surprise the Matildas.

“It is interesting that they have an idea of how to play us. We also have our own idea of how to play them. It is a very crucial game for us and we will throw everything we have into it.”

Australia, with three points, top Group B after the first round of matches, with Nigeria and Canada joint second with one point each.

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“It is very important to us to collect the three points on Thursday. That will put us in a great position before we play the Irish.”

For the Matildas, victory will take them to six points and all but guarantee a place in the Round of 16, ahead of their much-anticipated clash with Olympic champions Canada.

With the championship hosting 32 teams, it means only two top-placed teams in each will make progress to the knock-out rounds, where more cash is available for the players. Ebi said the Falcons also want to earn more money in the tournament, with the sum of $60,000 to go to each player whose team attains the Round of 16, and $90,000 for any team that gets to the quarter finals. Players of teams that exit the group stage will only earn $30,000 each.

“Much more than money, it is a matter of pride. Of course, we will like the money. However, Nigeria comes first. We were in the quarter-finals in 1999 and that is a long time ago; we want to work to go far in this tournament. Last time, in France, we got to the Round of 16. We are looking beyond the group stage here,” said the veteran who is attending her sixth World Cup finals and could play her 15th match of the finals on Thursday.

Ever-present Nigeria is the only African team to have earned a point here after their first round of matches, with other flagbearers Zambia, South Africa and Morocco having been denied of any point by their respective opponents.

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The Falcons returned to training on Sunday evening after having Saturday off, following Friday’s draw with Canada in Melbourne, and also trained on Monday evening at the match time (8pm).

With midfield powerhouses Rasheedat Ajibade and Halimatu Ayinde back from suspension, Coach Randy Waldrum is most likely to juggle the starting line-up, with Ayinde possibly the clear replacement for the impressive Deborah Abiodun who got a red card against the Canadians.

The lithe and lethal Ajibade, being ambipedal, could be deployed on either wing, meaning either Francisca Ordega or Ifeoma Onumonu could start from the bench.

Ajibade told thenff.com: “Personally, I’m fine. Really pumped up for the game. It’s going to be a difficult game because we’re playing the host team in front of their own fans and at their own stadium with so much crowd. A lot of factors.

“However, I think we’ve got this. I trust the team. We have the capacity; we have the talent and we have the energy. We just have to bring our ‘A’ game to the party and we can do it.”

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