Since inching into the last eight at USA 1999, Nigeria's women have not had much to shout about on the world stage. Indeed their opening draw with Sweden on 11 September was their first match without defeat at the FIFA Women's World Cup for over eight years.
Yet though his team go in their last Group B game needing three points against high-flying USA - a team they have never beaten at any age level of women's football - Nigeria coach Effiom Ntiero can still manage something like optimism. "Sure, we still have a chance," the ever-smiling Ntiero told FIFA.com on the eve of a contest his charges must win by three goals or more. "Why not? We had some serious problems from set-pieces in our last game against the Koreans, but we have addressed them and will be prepared for the threat the USA pose."
They may be tilting at windmills considering their record of no wins and draws in three finals games against the Americans (conceding 15 goals and scoring just two), but the seemingly perennial African champions do not seem intimidated at all by the challenge of facing Abby Wambach, Kristine Lilly and the two-time world champions. "Why should we be scared?" Stella Mbachu, player of the game against Sweden, asked rhetorically. "It's 11 women against 11 women. We are confident in our abilities and we know we can win, USA or no USA."
The last time the two teams met was four years ago at USA 2003, and the result was not one Nigeria will be keen on repeating. The 5-0 loss was nothing short of humiliating for the Africans, who despite ruling the roost on the mother continent for well over a decade, have failed to achieve anything resembling similar success on the world stage.
The loss to Korea DPR on Friday refreshed a statistic the Nigerians will be keen to keep out of their minds as they prepare for a date with the most successful women's team in history. The 2-0 reverse was their 11th defeat in 15 FIFA Women's World Cup outings. Even still, coach Ntiero is taking heart from his side's showing against the outstanding East Asians.
"Sure, the result looks bad," he said of a game decided by goals from two corner-kicks in the space of eight first-half minutes. "But we stayed with them for the whole second half. We can take pride in that and it augurs well for our next game against the Americans." In truth, the Africans look much improved since conceding eleven goals and scoring none in their three games at the last FIFA Women's World Cup.
They can also count on a promising young generation of players, chief among them reigning African Player of the Year Cynthia Uwak who scored the goal that brought them level and earned a point against Sweden. "We are still confident we can do something big in this tournament," said Uwak, who is short-listed for FIFA World Player of the Year and led Nigeria to the quarter-finals at last year's U-20 World Cup, "We have every confidence in ourselves and our abilities. Bring them on, I say."
Uwak will get her wish in Shanghai on Tuesday when USA - who have only ever lost two matches of their 24 through five FIFA Women's World Cups - come calling.