Nigerian coach Felix Ibe Ukwu summed up the adventures of his team at New Zealand 2008 when he observed, after his team's 1-0 loss against England, "Football is all about opportunities. Once you have the opportunity you must utilise it, and if you don't..."
The coach was no doubt referring to the fact that Nigeria created 20 shots on goal against the Young Lionesses, who only managed two in return. Yet it was England's Jessica Holbrook who scored the only goal of the game. "We can do better against Brazil, and we are going to do better," promised commanding striker Amarachi Okoronkwo.
And Nigeria did, scoring two goals against Brazil, including a deft outside-of-the-foot effort from Okoronkwo herself. Yet it was not enough, as Brazil also scored twice, from long range, to condemn the Nigerians to elimination. And again, the Flamingoes were left ruing some misses early in the game. The dreaded "O" word came up again.
"We have learned one important lesson: the missed opportunities are missed for ever, and they never come back" said Ebere Orji, who was sent off late on against the Brazilians. "We have missed too many chances and now we're out. It's useless to think 'what if...'"
If this group of Nigerian players can indeed add some opportunism to their game, then they will be a formidable prospect in women's football in years to come. With the power, crisp technique and interplay of Okoronkwo, Orji, Amenze Aighewi and others, they caused every team they met defensive worries.
"I'm very disappointed but I can't blame the players because they gave all they they could give," said Ibe Ukwu after the draw with Brazil had ended their hopes. "The important thing is to know why we lost and the way we lost, and to keep on working dutifully. We have to take advantage of this experience and keep on training hard for the next World Cups."
For many of the girls, it was their first-ever journey outside of Africa, and conditions in Wellington, where they played their opening two games, were not congenial. A far cry from the dry heat of Abuja, the wind and rain in New Zealand's capital were decidedly unfamiliar.
One thing is for certain. Felix Ibe Ukwu's youngsters will have plenty of opportunities to show their worth in the future.