Village people look to record first African success
The Olympics has been good to their brothers in recent years and now the Super Falcons are determined Greece is the place where the "Mother Continent" will find success.
In the past few days coach Ismaila Mabo's squad has been housed almost alone in the football precinct of the Olympic Village tasting the Games' spirit and with full use of the extensive facilities on offer.
"We are champions of Africa but we want to make an impression on the world game. We are not here for a jamboree - back home expectations are very high. We are here to win and we could well spring a surprise," said a determined coach who has been involved in the Nigerian women's team set up for 13 years and was coach when Nigeria reached the quarter-finals at USA 99.
The squad toured Germany in the tournament warm up, losing to the world champions but soundly defeating five other sides.
A late start
Nigeria and Mexico were the only teams not to be involved in the ten-team competition's opening fixtures. Relaxed in their Athens apartments they will have witnessed Japan's impressive 1-0 win over Group E favourites Sweden, the team that defeated the Super Falcons 3-0 in the FIFA Women's World Cup USA last September.
But Mabo is more concerned with his own troops.
"Before the competition I had not seen any videos of Japan so they are a bit of an unknown quantity," he admitted. "I have just told my players to be calm, to treat the opposition as human beings with due respect. In football each team has a 50-50 chance of winning."
Sole qualifiers from CAF, Nigeria retained their African crown after defeating old rivals Ghana in the semis and South Africa in the final. Not much has changed from the side that lost all three matches at USA 2003. Perpetua Nkwocha and Mercy Akide remain towering figures but the Nigerian Federation is exploring other avenues to promote the game in Africa's most populous country.
A Moslem himself, Mabo has been spearheading a drive to recruit more players from the country's northern, mainly Moslem, population.
"We have talent in abundance in Nigeria. We organise competitions to search for potential talent. The ones we select we invite for further grooming in the national training camps. "We have included a few Moslem women in the camps but in the north the women's game has not been fully embraced," he says, confirming that players in the current squad are all Christian. "We are taking our crusade to the north, enlightening and they are beginning to accept it."
In the absence of the men in the Olympics this time around, the Nigerian media is focusing attention on the women in Greece and success could well stimulate interest throughout the country. In perhaps the tightest looking group, the Super Falcons will be looking for the three points against Japan that should guarantee them qualification to the second phase. And after that who knows?