At 31, goalkeeper Precious Dede will lead out Nigeria’s Super Falcons at the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup™ in Germany next month. It will be her third FIFA Women's World Cup appearance, having been a part of the teams at the 2003 and 2007 tournaments as well. She has equally starred at two Olympics, in 2004 and 2008, and when you add her short stint in Norway playing professional football, you have a strong vein of experience that the can hold the spine of Nigeria steady from the back in the biggest matches.
In November, the agile Delta Queens of Asaba shot-stopper proudly lifted high the glittering African Women’s Championship trophy in Johannesburg amidst bedlam caused by her jubilant team-mates. For the Falcons it was all the more pleasing as it was achieved at the expense of fellow Germany 2011 finalists Equatorial Guinea, who had shocked Nigeria to win their first-ever continental title two years previously, ending the west African's previous dominance.
The current Falcons are a fine blend of veteran campaigners like Dede, Stella Mbachu and Perpetua Nkwocha as well as youngsters like Ebere Orji, Desire Oparanozie, Esther Sunday and Francisca Udegha. And in South Africa, the group was a different class: firing in 19 goals while Lagos-born Dede only picked the ball from her net four times in five matches. “Dede was simply wonderful in goal at the AWC. She has really justified the confidence put in her as the country’s number one goalkeeper,” remarked former international Ann Chiejine, who played at three FIFA Women's World Cups.
Focus on Germany
Despite having the strongest history with women’s football in Africa, Nigeria have failed to make a major mark on the world stage. At USA 2003, they lost all three group matches and did not score a goal while letting in 11. Four years later, they again finished at the bottom of their first round group, and they claimed a solitary point from a draw with Sweden. Captain Dede expects a far better showing by the Falcons in Germany and would not even rule out making history by becoming the first African side to land the biggest prize in women’s football.
“We have all been expecting another chance to have a go at achieving something better at the world stage,” said the upbeat goalkeeper, whose older brother encouraged her even when her parents frowned at her football career. “This is the time to go out there and show our stuff. Don’t rule us out of reaching the final of the World Cup, or better still, coming back home with the trophy.”
While understanding the high level of play set to be on offer in Germany, Dede is sure there will be no slip-ups for the green-clad side as they put the finishing touches on their preparations at a training camp in Austria. “Being the skipper of the team, I promise we will be in Germany to make Nigeria proud,” she said. “I am counting on our coaches - led by Eucharia Uche - to bring out the best in us, and by the time we have rounded up our preparations in Austria, I am very sure that we will be ready to take on the world.”
Confidence from the back
Foreign-based pros like Faith Ikidi, Helen Ukaonu, Uchechi Sunday, Emueje Ogbiagbevha, Rita Chikwelu, Sarah Michael and Perpetua Nkwocha are expected to soon join up with the mainly home-based squad in the four-week long camp in Saalfelden, Austria. “We have quality players whose contributions will be vital at the World Cup,” said Dede. “We will not disappoint, we will make Nigerians proud again.”
Nigeria take on France in their opening match in Sinsheim on 26 June, with Group A encounters against hosts and defending champions Germany in Frankfurt, and Canada in Dresden, to follow. For Falcons coach, Eucharia Uche, the defence marshalled by Dede provided her with the biggest cheer in South Africa. “My defence gave me the most joy,” she revealed. “They were marvellous the entire tournament. They conceded few goals and did not commit many blunders.”
A FIFA Women's World Cup winners’ medal would be most fitting parting gift for Dede, who holds a diploma in theatre arts and says she could well cash in on her good looks and popularity to become a movie star when she is through with the game. “I would most probably have been a successful actress by now," she said with a smile. "I love acting and you never can tell if I will take to it after I retire from football." You can be sure that if she is half as good an actress as she is a goalkeeper, Dede will be on the ‘A’ list of Nigeria’s booming movie industry, Nollywood.