For  Nigeria , a day that ended with  Cynthia Uwak  wheeling away, arms outstretched, in celebration of her injury time winner, began with an unexpected arrival.

It came courtesy of none other than the Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo, and in the shape of a letter addressed to Akudo Sabi, in which the Falconets captain and her team-mates were praised for their "dedication and determination to place our nation on the world sports map."

To an outsider, such a gesture might seem trivial, but to these young women, acclaim and appreciation from their head of state could not be more welcome, given the recognition - or lack thereof - their efforts invariably receive in a country where support for women's football tends sadly to be near-non existent.

The president's encouragement did not begin and end there, either, with Obasanjo urging the team to "make (the achievement) even more historical by not relenting in the zeal that has hitherto propelled you to the top" and imploring "his daughters" to "remain disciplined, patriotic" to protect and enhance the image of Nigeria and Africa as a whole.

The question of what role all this played in Emmanuel Tetteh Okonkwo's team's stirring late comeback against Canada will, of course, remain a matter for conjecture, but the coach himself is convinced that the letter's tone - part-congratulatory, part-motivational - struck a chord with his delighted players.

"It was the perfect encouragement for the girls and I think the psychological effect could be seen on the field," he told "The letter was a fantastic thing and, looking at everyone, I could see how much it meant to them. And, of course, they played in a way that made me proud and that would have made the President and everyone in the country proud."

It certainly said much for the quality of the Nigerians' comeback that even Ian Bridge, the Canadian coach whose side had been leading until eight minutes from the end, lauded his team's conquerors for their "fantastic" fightback and for the skill and technique employed in their decisive goals. 

'We'll give China a great fight'
The Africans' late, late show also stood as a tribute not only to their physical fitness, but also to their determination to continue pushing for all three points when, having twice found themselves behind, they would have been forgiven for celebrating a share of the spoils as something of a moral victory.  

"I must say, that pleases me very much because football is a game of 90 minutes and it's important the players realise that it doesn't matter which team scores first," said Okonkwo.

"I always tell my players to play to the end and have confidence that, when they go on to that field, they can beat anyone. That's why, even when we got the game back to 2-2, I still wanted the team to push on to win the game - and I always believed that they could do it."

Nigeria might be one of only seven nations to have qualified for every FIFA U-20 (formerly U-19) Women's World Championship, but prior to their opening match triumph, few were to be found tipping African football's dominant force to go the distance along with pre-tournament favourites such as China PR, USA and Germany.

Okonkwo, however, merely wants his side to be judged on their merits, and on what they produce here in Russia.

"When people talk about favourites, I don't like that," he said. "Football is different all over the world and, for me, it is not right to make judgements about teams at this level and say to someone, 'Your team are not the favourites'.

"Some teams will be better than others, of course, but every nation is doing its best and what you saw on the first day of matches maybe showed that we are all quite close together in terms of quality."
China , Nigeria's next opponents, certainly discovered early in their match against first-timers Finland that reputation counts for nothing at this level, although the manner in which the Steel Rosebuds set about  recovering all three points evidently impressed Okonkwo. 

"I have a lot of respect for China," he said ahead Group B's top-two showdown. "They are a good team who have been strong in the women's game for a long time. As I say, no-one in my team is interested in who are the so-called favourites for this match, but there is no way we will underestimate China. What we will do is give them a great fight." 

With this Nigeria team, that seems to be a given.