Twenty-four exciting matches have already been played at the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup 2008 and one lesson is clear: the No10s are the players to watch. Japan's Natsuko Hara, Ida Elise Enget of Norway, French starlet Eugenie Le Sommer and Brazilian maestro Francielle are just some of the inspirational players whose talents have earned them the admiration of fans and the media alike.
Rita Chikwelu is another performer well worthy of a place in this select group, and the experienced Nigerian midfielder has been the driving force behind her team's run to the quarter-finals here in Chile. The Falconets take on France on Sunday 30 November at Coquimbo's Francisco Sanchez Rumoroso stadium.
"The atmosphere within the team is very good. We've got a lot of belief that we can reach the final in Santiago," the Nigerian captain told FIFA.com. "That's what we've come to Chile to do so we'll try and keep our winning mentality going and play better with every match."
"France will be tough opponents, there are no easy teams at a global competition," continued Chikwelu, who remains confident her team can make the last four. "We've all come here intending to score goals and go very far in the competition. We're going to battle really hard to reach the semi-finals," added the midfield dynamo, who is thoroughly enjoying her first visit to Chilean soil. "Let's hope they (the home fans) keep supporting us as we progress in this competition."
Power, pace and experience
The Falconets' star's power and pace in the centre of the park has proved a vital ingredient in Nigeria's success so far, something the team's opponents have been quick to note. Indeed, after scoring the injury-time winner in Nigeria's opening group game against New Zealand, subsequent opponents England restricted Chikwelu's influence with tight-marking tactics.
Fortunately for Nigeria, Chikwelu's on-the-field understanding with Ebere Orji, Sarah Michael and Tawa Ishola helps avoid an over-dependence on any one player. "We're a very close-knit bunch and that's reflected in our attitude out on the pitch - we play as a team not as individuals. We intend to go on like this and to play better against France," said Chikwelu, whose favourite players are Zinedine Zidane and Nigerian international Daniel Ola.
Though clearly full of confidence for the challenges ahead, the 20-year-old feels Nigeria still have work to do. "We've got to improve our finishing. We create loads of chances but we're not able to take many," said the skipper, who plays her club football in Finland with United Pietarsaari. The statistics bear out this worrying trend, with Nigeria needing 30 shots to score just two goals in their final Group A game against Chile.
A veteran of the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cups at Russia 2006 and Thailand 2004, as well as the FIFA Women's World Cup China 2007 and the Women's Olympic Football Tournament Beijing 2008, only once in those four campaigns did Chikwelu and Co. reach the quarter-final stage. That result came two years ago in Russia, Nigeria's run ending with a 2-1 defeat to Brazil. On Sunday against France, the Falconets gifted No10 is determined to go one better.