Four years ago, Nigeria arrived in the USA with a fearsome reputation after winning yet another African championship, but fell well short on the world stage with three straight losses and no goals scored.
This time around, on the eve of China 2007, the situation looks eerily familiar. The Nigerians edged past up-and-coming Ghana to secure their seventh African crown, scoring seemingly at will against less formidable continental opponents than the Black Queens. Futhermore, in a strange twist that must create a real feeling of déjà vu, the Super Falcons find themselves up against the very same opposition as four years ago: favourites USA, world runners-up Sweden and Asian dark horses Korea DPR.
The obvious question begs asking: are the fragile African champions heading for another rude awakening on the world stage here in China? For Perpetua Nkwocha - captain and veteran of the side that shipped 11 goals in three defeats at USA 2003 - the answer is simple. "The World Cup in the USA is over," the experienced striker told FIFA.com from the team's final training session before opening against the Swedes. "We are a totally different team from that one and we are stronger, better prepared and ready to show what we can do. We are motivated by what happened four years ago and determined to show the world who we are."
One new element in the team is Nkwocha's young strike partner, Cynthia Uwak. Short-listed for FIFA World Player of the Year, the jet-heeled powerhouse, who so impressed at last year's FIFA U-20 World Cup in Russia, will be more than a handful for Group B's fancied favourites. "Some important players from the past have gone now, but we have exciting youth in the team like Cynthia (Uwak) and this will pose a big problem for Sweden first, then the USA and North Korea," Nkwocha warned. "She will be hungry to make a name for herself at this World Cup as will our many other young players."
Uwak and Nkwocha combined to score no fewer than 13 goals in five continental qualifiers on the road to China and their understanding will be key to hopes of success here in the Far East. The fact that Nigeria have only ever won two matches from 13 over four FIFA women's finals is not something that is worrying Nkwocha and her team. It is, however, acting as a source of motivation.
"The so-called big teams will be foolish to underestimate us this time around," she said. "We are not a team to be taken lightly. We have been preparing for a long time and we take our football very seriously. We will do everything in our power to make sure we do not perform poorly this time out." If Perpetua's determination and confidence count for anything, China 2007 could well be the stage for Nigeria's women to tear up their reputation as a paper tiger and roar for the first time on the world scene.