After its first two matches in this year’s World Cup, the U.S. Women’s National Team finds itself atop the Group of Death with 4 points thanks to a 0-0 draw with Sweden on Friday evening. The U.S. must win in order to clinch first place in the group, but a win or draw will be enough to secure a spot in the knockout round. The Lady Yanks’ final match of the group stage is against Nigeria this evening at 8 p.m. EST. What is there to know about the Nigerians?
Nigeria, or the Federal Republic of Nigeria as it is formally known, is a federal constitutional republic located in West Africa. The former British colony has been independent since 1960 and is run by a President and National Assembly made up of a Senate and House of Representatives. That sounds familiar. English remains the national language of this incredibly ethnically diverse country. Their current president is named Muhammadu Buhari, which is a much less impressive name than Goodluck Jonathan, who led the country from May 2010 to May of this year. Although it is an emerging economic power in Africa, it has also been the subject of sectarian tensions, most notably through the Boko Haram terrorist attacks over the last few years. Its human rights record is also appalling, as certain types of homosexual behavior are criminalized and punishments for this and other similar crimes in certain areas of the country include stoning and amputation. Man...this is getting a bit darker than talking about Ace of Base in the Sweden preview. Let’s move on.
Nigeria’s national anthem is “Arise O Compatriots” which took over as the country’s anthem in 1978. The lyrics are comprised of the best entries from a national contest that took place to pick the new anthem. There is a strong religious undertone to the march-sounding theme, but as is true with many anthems, it is a love song to the country and encourages all of its citizens to serve her proudly.
Nigeria is also home to a burgeoning film industry. Known as Nollywood, the country is now the 2nd-largest producer of movies in the world. “12 Years a Slave” star Chiwetel Ejiofor is of Nigerian heritage, but he grew up in London. I haven’t seen or heard of any Nollywood films...but if the trailer for the 2003 smash hit “Baby Police” is any indicator, it is about time I immersed myself heavily into the Nollywood culture. As you can see, I’m sure Mr. Ejiofor was devastated that he could not be a part of this project.
My heart broke when I learned that "Baby Police" is not available on Netflix.[/caption]
Nigeria currently sits at the bottom of Group D after it lost to Australia and drew with Sweden. The “Super Falcons” are considered the strongest squad from Africa in this year’s competition, having won the African Women’s Championship in both 2010 and 2014. Nigeria has two players on its squad with American connections as forward Courtney Dike goes to Oklahoma State University (she grew up in Oklahoma but her parents are from Nigeria, hence her eligibility), while forward Francisca Ordega plays for the Washington Spirit in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). Ordega came on as a substitute late in the match against Sweden and scored the equalizing goal.
The 33rd-ranked country coming into the competition will have to pull a major upset over the #2 ranked U.S. team in the final match to have any chance at advancing to the knockout stage. With nothing to lose, the Super Falcons should be playing on the front foot for the entire match. In case the U.S. is feeling overconfident or looking to cruise into the knockout round, they can ask their old manager Pia Sundhage of the Swedish national team how well that worked out for her squad in the opening match.
For the United States, advancing to the Round of 16 is almost certainly guaranteed, as all second place teams advance and four of the six third-place finishers also advance. They key for the U.S. will be positioning for who it will play in the next round. Colombia is the most likely opponent for the winner of the group, but England and third-ranked France are also possibilities. Things only get more serious from here, so let’s show the Lady Yanks our support this evening. U-S-A, U-S-A.
Follow Mike Smith on Twitter @thefootiegent