The semi-final victory over Colombia was both a wonderful moment for Nigeria and a notable achievement for African football as a team from that continent advanced to a place in the final of a FIFA Women’s World Cup for the first time.
Yet the Falconets coach found it hard at first to join in the mood of celebration that day. Ndem Egan’s desire for improvement is such that he was very unhappy with aspects of their play. However after the 2-0 defeat by Germany in Sunday's final he had only words of praise for his players – while admitting their downfall was in not taking their chances – who for long periods looked capable of pegging back the host nation’s early lead.
He believes the team, who displayed pace, power, passion and solid organisation throughout the three-week event, have now set the standard for other African nations to follow.
“We will now be a role model in Africa for women’s football,” Egan said. “We are very happy with the performance of our team. There are some great prospects among them and some will graduate to the senior women's team. Undoubtedly they have learned from their experience in Chile two years ago.”
Their level of performance – the final was the only defeat in six matches at the tournament – proved a big boost for Nigerian football after the disappointment of the FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa but the coach believes it is only the start of a successful period. The work of the Nigeria Football Federation behind the scenes and at grass roots level will ensure a profitable production line of new talent.
“We have been trying to build up our youth teams to help them grow in future competitions and right now there is a big programme going on to bring on the players,” he added. “Our mission is to bring on the youth so that they can compete in competitions. The federation is developing women’s football in our country and we are also trying to encourage corporations to form female teams so we can get players into the national teams for international competitions. That way the programme goes on and on.”
Certainly the exploits of the midfield dynamo Ebere Orji, the selfless running of Desire Oparanozie, the dogged work between the penalty areas of Glory Iroka, the long-range shooting of Helen Ukaonu and the leadership of Joy Jegede, can only serve as great examples to younger players of what can be achieved through hard work and dedication.