Stripping the Stars and Stripes; Besting the Beast
Lengthy title isn’t it?
Well, the aim is to unravel, scare, strategize and then ”unscare” you!
Still too much talk? OK! let’s get to the crux of the matter.
The much anticipated Women’s World Cup is underway and the quality of football on display has – to put it mildly-, beggared description. Some teams have been utterly ruthless, some playing it safe while for others, it has been a tourney to forget.
However, the Falcons who took on Sweden and Australia respectively will have ONE more try to push for a place in the round of 16. The last of the three fixtures of group D will see Nigeria go toe-to-toe with the ultimate powerhouse of the game.
Stars and Stripes
The USA- A nation that is known for its diversity and patriotism.
Little surprise they are the all-time number one team on the FIFA ranking. Since the inception of the World Cup, they’ve never failed to appear at the mundial. Making their seventh appearance in Canada 2015, the Stars and Stripes as they are called have obliterated almost every record in the World Cup.
-The most games played (38), the most game won (28), All-time appearance (Kristine Lilly with 30 apps), Most clean sheets by a goalkeeper (Brian Scurry with 10 clean sheets)- and the list goes on.
Nonetheless, we have news for you:
The Good news- They’ve won the title twice out of six editions.
The Bad news- They’ve not won the title in the last 16 years.
The 1991 and 1999 editions which announced the likes of Michelle Akers, Kristine Lilly and the superstar, Mia Hamm were the only tournaments the USA took home the silverware. Since then, the nation has decried the lack of silverware albeit churning out squads brimming with individual talents over the years.
Of all the murmurings, 2014 represented a major dip.
They finished rock bottom of Group B in the Algarve cup, losing to Denmark and Sweden before finishing seventh in the tournament they’d finished in first place in 2013 and have won 10 times in total; six more than their closest contenders, Norway.
This culminated to the sack of Tom Sermanni, a month after the tourney but under new coach Jill Ellis, they still suffered shock defeats to Brazil in December 2014 and France in February 2015.
Nonetheless, the US under the Englishwoman’s tutelage has stirred the ship to shores anew. A 6-0 drubbing of Costa Rica saw the Blue and Whites clinch their 5th CONCAF Gold Cup which in turn qualified them for the World Cup. They also reclaimed the Algarve glory by defeating France and have gone on a six-match unbeaten streak since March, including a 3-1 triumph over Australia in Group D of the Women’s World Cup.
In that game, the USA displayed the grit of a Champion, the patience of a Spy, the finesse of a Connoisseur and the prowl of a BEAST.
Besting the Beast
Over the years, the US has been the epitome of longevity when it comes to women’s football. Despite this, the 2011 silver medallists may have fallen short tactically compared to previous years but against Nigeria, they’ve been merciless.
Out of four meetings (WC- USA 99, USA 2003, China 2007 and Sydney 2000 Olympics), the Falcons have conceded 16 goals and scored a miserly two which brings to account that they’ve never beaten the Americans.
Of all the players who have drilled holes in the Falcons’ defence over the years, the constant face remains Abby Wambach.
The 34-year-old is the all-time leading goalscorer(in both men and women’s football) with a monstrous return of 182 goals. Albeit aging, the stellar forward will be an imposing figure alongside rising star, Alex Morgan. Abby’s aerial prowess and Alex’ Midas touch will most certainly leave the Falcons’ backline with much to ponder.
Their flexible 4-4-2 has aided the forwards work almost telepathically. This has flourished due to the Americans’ almost impenetrable midfield anchored by Carli Lloyd and Lauren Holiday with the likes of Megan Rapinoe, Sydney Leroux and Christen Press who can double for strikers and attacking midfielders, manoeuvring the flanks.
In defence, the Stars and Stripes are armoured with the likes of the aesthetic goalkeeper in Hope Solo (unarguably the face of American Soccer), Klingenberg and Krieger but that’s where the Falcons can sniff blood.
The flanks are paraded with pacy and nifty players whose prowess is in attack. Loopholes abound when those attackers are not quick in defensive covers and as we witnessed against Sweden, our wide forwards can take advantage.
Much will be done -as assured by Edwin Okon- on Nigeria’s defence as the US team pose a threat in playing to their opposition’s tune until they can sense them tire out and THEN will they begin their onslaught.
What is key is the team’s willingness to frustrate the US by being compact at the back and not leaving room for the Americans to pick out spaces; one we saw the Swedes and Aussies do repeatedly. Eliminating the rate of set-pieces would do just fine as they’re serial aerial lynchpins.
To contain is one thing but to win is another.
Is this herculean? Yes it is.
Is it achievable? Of course.
As evidenced in the Sweden game, Nigeria is a team that can spring in the surprises.
As evidenced in the Australia game as well, Nigeria is a team that can implode effortlessly.
No one is giving the Falcons a chance (that is to be expected when you’re taking on the number one team of all time) thus having modest expectations is ”not bad”, they say….
Ambition is the word. Stripping the Stars and Stripes should be fancied but that can only be done with an A-game, no respect shown and one aim in sight.
The Beast can fall. Let that archer be us.
Photos credit to FIFA.com
‘Janine is a TV/Radio Sports Presenter/Correspondent and Web reporter for SPORTON Nigeria. She also covers Africa Women’s football for various portals including the NFF (Nigeria Football Federation) and The Women’s Game