Majestic Falconets soar into last eight
On the last day of action in Group B at Russia 2006, the Nigerians dealt a cruel blow to the Finns with an 8-0 demolition job in Shchelkovo. In doing so, the Africans secured their place in the quarter-finals alongside China PR.
Going into the match, the Nigerians were well aware that, while a draw or even a defeat might suffice, only a win - and a convincing one at that - would leave them in control of their own destiny. Consequently, the Falconets hit the ground running at the Podmoskovie stadium.
"I asked the girls to attack strongly straight away to put them under pressure," explained Emmanuel Tetteh Okonkwo after the game. "They did exactly that and never let their grip on the game slip, so I'm absolutely delighted."
The captain Akudo Sabi set the tone, firing in a dangerous early free-kick before making the breakthrough on 7 minutes. Akudo Iwuagwu broke free down the right, crossed and found Maureen Eke, who in turn teed up Sabi for a rocket-like shot into the Finnish net (1-0, 7').
The Finns were now being subjected to wave upon wave of Nigerian assaults and it was no surprise when they cracked again, not once but twice. Eke scored from a corner on the right (2-0, 13') and further punishment was doled out two minutes later, with Cynthia Uwak finishing off the move this time (3-0, 15').
"It was a special match for me, because I play in Finland," said the forward, who plays her club football for United. "I know all their players, so the win means even more."
And the storm had not yet run its course. Eke fired against the crossbar and then Iwuagwu set off on a jinking run only to see her shot well held well by the unfortunate Tinja-Riikka Korpela in the Finnish goal. Jarmo Matikainen brought on Linda Sallstrom up front, but although she attempted to make a few penetrating bursts, nothing came of them and the Africans maintained their firm grip on the game.
From bad to worse for the Finns
With three minutes until half-time, Sabi's clean strike three minutes later sailed into the roof of Korpela's net to ensure that the game was as good as dead before the half-time whistle had even sounded (4-0, 42').
The deficit was already taking on alarming proportions, but there remained more damage to be done. Just two minutes into the second period, Nigeria won yet another corner and the Finnish keeper got in a tangle with three of her own defenders, leaving Rita Chikwelu to stroke the ball into an empty net (5-0, 47').
Matikainen's demoralised side remained under pressure, with Uwak, Eke and Chikwelu continually tormenting their hapless markers. Accelerating superbly down the left flank, Uwak shook off her marker and laid the ball on a plate to Eke, who was left with the simple task of rolling the ball into the net (6-0, 65').
Brimming with confidence by now, the Nigerians were looking nothing short of unstoppable. The shots were raining in on goal, almost singeing poor Korpelas's gloves.
And the party was not over yet. Uwak beat the Finnish keeper to a cut-back pass and fed Chikwelu, who promptly scored her second goal of the evening with 17 minutes remaining (7-0, 73'). Seven then became eight when, picked out by Uwak once again, Eke beat Korpela from the edge of the box (8-0, 79').
Sated at last, the Falconets finally took their foot off the gas. The match finished with a scoreline that, along with the Germany-Mexico game this year (9-1), represents the highest margin of victory in the history of the event.
More importantly, it ensured that the Nigerians join group winners China in the quarter-finals, at the expense of the Canadians. "I didn't change anything in particular from the team that lost to China ," explained the delighted Okonkwo. "You win some, you lose some. That's football. Having said that, I placed particular emphasis on discipline in all areas: defence midfield and attack - and the players carried out my instructions to the letter."
Jarmo Mattikainen was philosophical after the encounter: "We gave everything in our first two matches, so I knew this would be a difficult game from the physical perspective, especially as Nigeria are such a fast, strong and powerful side. I'm just disappointed that we couldn't maintain our defensive organisation a bit better to prevent this flood of goals."
Player of the Match: CYNTHIA UWAK
"She attacked relentlessly, scored one goal and made two more. What's more, her incessant activity on both wings helped unhinge the Finnish defence," Fran Hilton-Smith (RSA), FIFA Technical Study Group .