With the opening match of the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup™ just a matter of hours away, a group of journalists have gathered at Nigeria’s Heidelberg hotel for a press conference with some of the team’s senior players. Perpetua Nkwocha is one of them, and after nervously fielding questions from the press, the prolific midfielder joined FIFA.com for a more relaxed one-on-one interview.
Do not be fooled by Nkwocha’s calm, almost timid outward appearance: the Super Falcons midfielder is a natural born predator. On the pitch she routinely toys with opposition defences, pouncing on their mistakes and killing off challenges from rival teams. And while she may be 35, Nkwocha has certainly not come all the way to Germany just to admire the scenery.
Indeed, Nkwocha has lofty ambitions for Nigeria’s FIFA Women’s World Cup campaign. “We’re here to win, she said. “African teams have never performed well on the world stage. We’ve only once made it past the group stages, and that was back in 1999. This is my final FIFA Women’s World Cup, and I want to help my team-mates beat our record. It would show the world that we have some really good teams in Africa.”
Nkwocha is part of a golden generation of Nigerian players that has dominated African football in recent years. However, they have never won the world title and time is fast running out for several long-serving players. Among them are forward Stella Mbachu and goalkeeper and captain Precious Dede, both of whom are now in their thirties and are highly unlikely to feature at the next finals in Canada in 2015.
Changing of the guard
A first world title is clearly high on Nigeria’s list of priorities, but Germany 2011 also represents an opportunity to hand over the reins to a new generation of players. “We have lots of talented footballers who are capable of stepping up,” said Nkwocha. “I will soon be retiring along with some of my team-mates, but we will be replaced and Nigeria will continue to rule African football.”
When asked to identify the player she considers her successor in the Nigerian side, Nkwocha prefers not to give names. “It’s difficult for me to name a particular player,” she explained. “All of my team-mates are working hard to replace me, and it will be up to them to assert themselves. But I’m very optimistic about it all.”
Anything is possible
Nigeria boast a number of vastly experienced players, but Ngozi Uche’s squad is actually one of the youngest at the tournament, and is by far the most youthful in Group A. And when asked about the scale of the challenge facing her side to qualify for the quarter-finals, Nkwocha is typically upbeat: “I don’t think we’re in the toughest group”, she said. “All of the teams in the competition are very strong. We have every chance, regardless of the opponents in front of us.”
Not even the idea of facing hosts and reigning champions Germany seems to worry Nkwocha. “Germany are under a lot more pressure than us. We’re quite relaxed. The pressure’s on them because they’re defending the title, and they’re playing on home soil in front of fans who can’t picture them losing.”
Nigeria share a hotel with France, but it seems that the Super Falcons still know relatively little about their first Group A opponents. Indeed, coach Ngozi Uche reminded the assembled journalists at the press conference that the two sides have never faced each other at senior level. It would appear, then, that the stage is set for an action-packed and dramatic opening encounter.