Super Falcons: When will the bubble burst?

Randy Waldrum.

Super Falcons: When will the bubble burst?

Seye Omidiora 21:27 - 31.07.2023

Despite being awfully flawed, Randy Waldrum’s Super Falcons have somehow found a way to surpass pre-World Cup expectations.

Nigeria’s Super Falcons had something to lose for the first time since the start of the 2023 Women’s World Cup. The point against Canada was unexpected; the 3-2 triumph over co-hosts Australia was extraordinary.

To be assured of progress, the West African nation needed to avoid defeat in their final Group B game against the cellar-dwelling Republic of Ireland. 

They succeeded and kept a clean sheet for good measure, becoming the first African side in the competition’s history to keep two clean sheets at any Women’s World Cup.

Randy Waldrum’s team have accomplished the feat despite their undoubted imperfections.

The conversation before Monday’s game suggested a walk in the park against the tournament debutants; however, the 90 minutes that played out was anything but straightforward.

Admittedly, the statistics will show that the Super Falcons created the game’s two finest chances — Asisat Oshoala firing just wide after being slipped through by Uchenna Kanu in the 14th minute and the latter’s header seven minutes after the interlude forcing arguably the tournament’s best save from Courtney Brosnan — but the opening half, at times, spotlighted this team’s limitations.

Are the Super Falcons limited?

The build-up phase was incoherent and misplaced passes typified the opening half. It was not a one-off, with games against Canada and Australia underlining this team’s limits with the ball.

When they keep their composure, though, the potential to be devastating is evident. Perhaps it is no surprise that Waldrum’s team have averaged 37.3 percent possession — only six teams have seen less of the ball.

The obvious counterargument to that statistic would be a reminder that what matters more is what you do with the ball and not how much possession a team has. While that is all well and good, the underlying numbers with the Super Falcons are damning.

Super Falcons played it safe against Ireland to avoid stories that touch. (Photo Credit: FIFA/Twitter)

According to Opta, Nigeria had managed one sequence of play containing 10 passes or more before facing Ireland. Only Haiti and South Africa (0) had fewer. 

The plan seems to be to employ a mid-block and transition at speed, but there has been no recorded direct attack (an open play sequence starting in Nigeria’s half that has ended with a shot or a touch in the opponent’s box) by the sports analytics company.

Unsurprisingly, the upshot of being passive without the ball means the Super Falcons are one of the top 10 nations with a high PPDA, i.e., passes per defensive action (the number of opposition passes allowed outside of Nigeria’s defensive third).

Strikingly, Japan — who ended their group with nine points, notably thrashing Spain on Monday — have a high PPDA, while Zambia’s passive approach outdoes every team at the tournament.

However, both nations have been involved in more moves containing 10 passes or more, with the East Asian country placing among the best nations in that statistic.

Indeed, even though Japan and Zambia picked and chose when to engage the opponent in possession during the group phase, they demonstrated clearer patterns when they had the ball than the Super Falcons. 

Waldrum’s team have intermittently frustrated with the inability to build up play with any real coherence, with the absence of composure, flawed technical quality and unsatisfactory decision-making leading to promising moves breaking down.

Be that as it may, it has not wholly been doom and gloom.

The intangibles have aided the Super Falcons

For a nation whose preparation was chaotic and had to battle a shabby administration, Waldrum’s side performed admirably to remain in the competition when many predicted a group-stage exit.

The Super Falcons have shown a fierce mentality to thrive amid the chaos, with Chiamaka Nnadozie coming up trumps after the concession of a penalty against Canada and Kanu levelling against Australia last Thursday. 

Pegging back the co-hosts just before halftime was timely; going into the 15-minute interlude level rather than 1-0 down was what the doctor ordered for the World Cup ever-presents.

They were also a precise Oshoala strike or Kanu second-half header away from snatching the win, even if Ireland looked the more integrated side for considerable periods of the game. The European nation’s below-par final-third decision-making and execution meant the best opening created was arguably Katie McCabe’s fifth-minute effort that flashed wide.

The Super Falcons came out unscathed against the Olympic champions and tournament co-hosts in the competition's 'Group of Death', setting up a possible round of 16 tie against European champions England.

Despite this team’s flaws, you cannot discount them. And that is the joy of tournament football.