1. Before his team earned a shock draw in a 3-3 thriller against Sweden in their opening game at the Women’s World Cup, Nigeria national team coach Edwin Okon talked to the media about what he knew about the fifth-ranked team in the world.
“I know nothing about Sweden. I am very sincere,” he said. “We just have to prepare well to meet them, I do not know or haven’t read about them.”
Scouting is notoriously difficult at the Women’s World Cup, but it’s even tougher for national teams that don’t have the money or resources of the programs the U.S. and Germany do. While Sweden coach Pia Sundhage complained that it was tough to get her hands on Nigeria game film because they rarely play outside of Africa, she also added the kicker, “However, we have a great scouting team. We are well-prepared.”
When asked about scouting Sweden, Okon said he didn’t have to.
“I don’t need to know your name, I don’t need to read about you,” he said.
Nigeria is the last-ranked team in Group D at 33rd in the world. Their other three opponents in the Group of Death — the U.S. (2nd), Sweden (5th), and Australia (10th) — are all ranked in the top 10. Faced with the task of taking down some of the biggest teams and names in world soccer, it’s hard to think of a better philosophy than, “I don’t need to know your name.”
2. This lack of scouting manifested itself in the first-half goals that put Sweden up 2-0. Both came off of corner kicks, and both were horribly defended by a Nigeria team that looked like they had no idea what to expect (they didn’t).
The first goal, an own goal, was particularly ugly:
3. Nigeria is good though. They aren’t a compelling underdog because they try hard and overachieve, they’re a compelling underdog because they think they’re good enough to take down the best teams in the world, and they actually might be. Twenty-year-old forward Asisat Oshoala was named BBC women’s player of the year. Francisca Ordega has two goals and two assists in four starts for the NSWL’s Washington Spirit.
Nigeria had 14 shots to Sweden’s seven and held the majority of possession. They didn’t pack numbers behind the ball and hope for some luck, they attacked again and again and consistently beat Sweden’s back line with speed and smartly timed runs.
On the first equaliser, Oshoala shrugged off a defender before cooly finishing:
On the goal that made it 3-3, a perfectly weighted pass sent Ordega in on goal:
Nigeria is an underdog that doesn’t play like an underdog. It’s only after the goals — when you see through their celebrations how much this means to the players, coaches, and staff — that you get a sense that they aren’t used to scoring gorgeous goals against top teams on the sport’s biggest stage.
Here was the sideline after Oshoala made it 2-2:
Coaches, players, fans, the whole package:
4. Nigeria can advance out of Group D. Australia, their next opponent, is not as highly regarded as Sweden. And the United States, their final opponent, has a shaky defence that Oshoala and friends should be able to get in behind. Nigeria advancing to the knockout stages wouldn’t just be good for the team and women’s soccer in Africa in general, it’d be great for this specific World Cup because one of the most fun teams in the world would be four games from the trophy.
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