- Asisat Oshoala reflects on another African title
- Three-time African player of the year expects cohesive side in France
- Forward excited to see Super Falcons enjoy pre-tournament tune-up
You wouldn’t expect continental champions to come back from lifting the title with the admission that they were a bit rusty. But in Asisat Oshoala’s eyes, Nigeria have plenty more in their locker despite hoisting the CAF Women’s Africa Cup of Nations in December.
With the team having toiled en route to their third successive title, surviving penalty shootouts in both the semi-final and final, the three-time CAF African Women’s Player of the Year is anticipating a slicker, more efficient Super Falcons outfit come the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™.
While she’s getting into gear in the best possible way – joining Barcelona on loan from Chinese champions Dalian Quanjian – the national team is being put through its paces in the lead-up too, game-time she feels they sorely need.
“The team has not been together properly for about two years, which has made things more difficult because we hadn’t had many proper sessions, we were just together for about two weeks prior to the tournament and it was pretty difficult,” she explained to FIFA.com.
“Our goal at the start was to qualify for the World Cup but we ended up winning it in the end. This has given us a lot of confidence going into the World Cup, ahead of our friendly games and for the team to perform better.”
Africa on the rise
Long seen as an unstoppable force on the African women’s scene, Nigeria’s triumph in Ghana may have kept them on their throne, but it also signalled that their hold on crown may be loosening. “I think African teams are really getting better,” Oshoala assessed. “The last Cup of Nations was of real quality. Teams have buckled up, prepared hard, trained hard and it was pretty difficult.”
Fellow finalists South Africa, who Oshoala explained “we’d pretty much beat every time” having won nine of their ten meetings in the continental finals, received much of the post-tournament plaudits. Nigeria, meanwhile, had to fall back on grit and steel to leave victorious.
It’s a state of affairs that the two-time Chinese league title winner is extracting the positives from as she gets ready to gear up for her second bow on women’s football’s biggest stage. “I feel like that showed how much we are able to give. Just imagine the team we could have with all the right preparation.”
And that in itself is quite the proposition, being that they have two of Africa’s top three players in their ranks. Oshoala and Francisca Ordega – both of whom burst onto the World Cup scene at Canada 2015 – finished second and third behind South Africa’s Thembi Kgatlana for the title of the continent’s top player, but reflects the youthful talent bubbling within the side.
The Swede steering the Falcons
Having taken the reins last year, coach Thomas Dennerby will also have had the opportunity to put his stamp on the Super Falcons come kick-off in France. “It’s not been easy for him, not having us together for a while,” Oshoala admitted.
“Now he’s had the chance to take charge of us at a tournament, see what young players are ready to make the step up, I think he has enough time to get us ready.”
With a bronze medal already resting on his mantelpiece, having led his native Sweden to the podium in 2011, Dennerby’s know-how is seen as invaluable by the team’s star forward. “He has World Cup experience, he’s taken charge of plenty of big teams and tactically he knows the game at the top level – and the World Cup is the very best.”
Being drawn with hosts France, Korea Republic and Norway sees Oshoala going with no expectations of a gentle introduction to proceedings. “I told my team-mates that no-one that’s qualified for the World Cup is a pushover. They’re among the champions of their own continents. It’s champions against champions. The group is open but it’s very high quality.”
Having been outside the field of view for plenty of fans while in China, her goalscoring and trophy-winning exploits may have gone under the radar for many. Under the tutelage for former Lyon and Paris Saint-Germain coach Farid Benstiti she has hit 23 goals across two keenly contested title wins.
Now back on European soil she will be hoping to only enhance that eye for goal in Spain’s Liga Feminina and the upcoming Cyprus Cup, so she can hit the ground running just like she did against Sweden four years ago. Her first touch in Blaugrana bodes well.