The quarter-finals of the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup hold few fond memories for Nigeria. The ambitious Falconets have faltered at the last-eight stage on three previous occasions, but are hoping to go one step further on Sunday, when they take on defending champions USA for a place in the semi-finals of Germany 2010.
Self belief key
"We'll win against the USA," said a confident Amarachi Okoronkwo in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com. The 17-year-old provided the link between midfield and attack in each of Nigeria's three group matches, and even managed to get on the scoresheet in the 2-1 victory over Japan. Alongside star player Ebere Orji and chief goal-getter Desire Oparanozie, the energetic No16 is the driving force of the west Africans' attack.
After registering one win and two draws in the first phase, Ndem Egan's side qualified for the quarter-finals in second place behind Mexico in Group C, with pre-tournament favourites Japan and England falling at the first hurdle. That feat has the young Nigerians believing they can go even further at the tournament. "Do we have the quality to win the title? Yes!" beamed Okoronkwo.
The Nigerians have been delighted by the atmosphere in the German stadiums and are hoping that will give them the extra motivation to go on and reach the final. "I'm very happy to be playing in this competition and to be enjoying this success. I really like the atmosphere here," continued the Nasawara Amazons playmaker, who also appeared at the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup in New Zealand two years ago.
Nigeria's displays so far have attracted praise from numerous quarters, but Okoronkwo is well aware that the USA have been steadily moving through the gears as the tournament has progressed. She also knows she will have to be at the top of her game for Sunday's encounter, saying: "It's been going well for me so far, but I can still improve."
Nonetheless, Okoronkwo maintains that the quality and strength of the Nigerian team will see them through against the overwhelming favourites from North America. "I think I'm a technically gifted player, but the key to our success as a team will be our spirit." Ally those characteristics to a fierce will to win, and the Nigerians could indeed create history at Germany 2010 by reaching the last four for the very first time.