Having squandered a hatful of chances against Mexico in the quarter-finals of the FIFA Women's U-20 World Cup Japan 2012, Nigeria came perilously close to crashing out of the tournament before Desire Oparanozie's extra-time goal sent them through. They then experienced the same difficulties against USA, only this time the Falconets paid the price, failing to score despite creating plenty of chances and conceding twice at the other end.
With the team now certain to come up short compared with Germany 2010, when they made it through to the final, captain Gloria Ofoegbu certainly has some regrets. "I think that everything worked fine, as it usually does," she said as she left an eerily silent locker-room after the 2-0 defeat. "Everything that is apart from converting our chances – we ended up missing most of the ones that came our way."
Nigeria's dreams of glory and lifting the trophy have now been dashed, but the defender is hoping to learn lessons from this defeat rather than wallowing in self-pity. "What we can take from this tournament first and foremost is the fact that we have to treat each attack like it's the only chance we're going to get in that match," said the River Angels player. "The Americans only had a few chances but they put them away, and if we'd have done the same with one or two of ours, it would be us in the final."
Aiming for third place
Coach Okon Edwin's charges will have to make do with the match for third place and the opportunity to finish on the podium nevertheless. "Third place wouldn't be that bad at the end of the day," said Ofoegbu, who finally managed a smile as she added that the Falconets would give it their all in their final match here in Japan. "We began the tournament looking to make the final at least and unfortunately we didn't manage to do that. But once the final whistle blew, we set ourselves a new goal. Being the third-best team in the world in this age group would be pretty good."
A look at recent results would suggest that Nigeria's women's football is going downhill, having failed to qualify for the Women's Olympic Football Tournament at the London 2012 and falling in the first round of the FIFA Women's World Cup 2011™, but Ofoegbu refutes that argument.
"We're not going backwards," the U-20 captain said. "We managed to become one of the top teams in the world two years ago and making it to the semi-finals this year proves that we've maintained our level. We've made progress and I actually thing that we're better than USA – we just didn't have the luck at the right time."
They will need both luck and a cool head in front of goal if they are to defeat the hosts and finish the tournament on a high note, however. Ofoegbu, who already has tasted life at the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup in 2008 and at the U-20 version in 2010, has been trying to motivate her team-mates for one last effort.
"The first thing I did in the locker-room was to remind them that we still have one match to go," she concluded. "The tournament isn't over yet, even if we can't win it any more. If we're low on morale, we won't be able to win this match. We at least need to be going home with a bronze medal, and we need to work on converting more of our chances than in the last match. It’s the only way we can keep making progress and achieve our objectives. We need work more and work harder."