Both African hopefuls are heading for home after the group stage of the FIFA Women's World Cup Germany 2011™, but the mood in the respective camps could hardly be more of a contrast. Disappointment is the main emotion for continental champions Nigeria, who once again failed to seal a quarter-final berth, but Equatorial Guinea leave with a sense of satisfaction and plaudits ringing in their ears following their maiden appearance on the global footballing stage.
The newcomers’ boisterous fans certainly made a splash in the stands, and out on the pitch, coach Marcello Frigerio’s side never remotely looked like the cannon fodder some feared they might be. In their final group match, Genoveva Anonman and her energetic team-mates comfortably matched hot favourites Brazil in the first half, and only fell to narrow defeats against seasoned campaigners Australia and Norway.
I think the World Cup has been very valuable for my players, and for their future careers.
“Let's remember that Equatorial Guinea is a very small country, and we were at a World Cup for the first time. A dream has come true. The players will go home with their heads held high, and the people will definitely be satisfied," Frigerio said following the final group match. “This is an absolutely top-quality tournament. I think the World Cup has been very valuable for my players, and for their future careers."
The starring role fell to Anonman, who is set to join German Women's Bundesliga giants Turbine Potsdam for the new season. She quite literally stood out from the rest, both for her ruthless finishing and her colourfully flamboyant hairstyles. “Her outstanding qualities are there for everyone to see. She's talented, ambitious, and very, very good. Anonman is the Marta of Equatorial Guinea. She's scored two goals at this tournament and has lived up to her billing," Frigerio enthused.
The world has undoubtedly not heard the last of team captain Anonman and her troops. “If Equatorial Guinea learns its lessons and adapts its preparations accordingly, the nation has a chance of being part of this again four years from now," the coach concluded.
Nigerian dismay and disappointment
At the other end of the spectrum, Nigeria were downcast and dismayed after their early exit. Stella Mbachu and Perpetua Nkwocha made no secret of their disappointment after their final match, despite the consolation of victory in their last appearance at a FIFA Women's World Cup. Mbachu even collected the Player of the Match award, and Nkwocha had the honour of scoring her team's only goal.
“That was my last game for Nigeria," Mbachu said following Wednesday's victory over Canada. “I'm delighted I had the opportunity to be here, but I need to get away from it all for a while. Obviously, we were hoping to qualify for the quarter-finals. I'm sad we've not made it and that I have to go home now. That wasn't my plan, and it wasn't the team's plan either. We came here intending to qualify for the next round, but that's football. You don't always get what you want."
Goalscorer Nkwocha also said she would not appear in her country's colours at the next FIFA Women's World Cup. “I know I won't be part of the team for the next World Cup, but I'm not hanging up my boots just yet, even though this was my last World Cup. I hope we qualify for the Olympic Football Tournament, because if we do, I'll play at that tournament. I want to take part in the Games, but I'm considering ending my career after the Olympics," the player stated.
“The next World Cup isn't for another four years, and that's a very long time. Four years is hardly tomorrow. I have to think about my future, and that can't wait four years," Nkwocha reflected. Her team-mate Mbachu was just as uncertain as to what the future might hold. “I don't have any plans yet for the time after football. I don't think I'll become a coach, that's not my thing. I really don't fancy the job. Basically, I'd like to do something which doesn't have too much to do with football. Maybe I'll become an agent," she said with a grin.
Regardless of what the future brings for Mbachu and Nkwocha, both have been tremendous servants of Nigerian women's football. It now falls to their successors to overcome the latest setback and engineer a glorious future for the women's game in Africa's most populous country.