By: Gyang Dakwo
After holding Canada to a 0-0 draw, Nigeria is determined to continue its unbeaten start to the tournament on Thursday against co-host Australia.
Coach Randy Waldrum recognizes that facing the Matildas will present a different set of challenges than what they faced against Canada.
The Australians “are extremely dangerous in their transition moments,” Waldrum said. “Canada is more possession-based, but Australia has the ability to attack quickly on the counter.”
Nigeria will welcome back Rasheedat Ajibade and Halimatu Ayinde who are returning from suspension. Australia, on the other hand, will be without injured superstar striker Sam Kerr and her understudy, Mary Fowler, who played in the 1-0 opening win over Ireland.
Nigeria is no stranger to the Women’s World Cup, having qualified for all nine tournaments. Advancing beyond the group stage has however been a challenge, with the team only doing so twice.
One explanation for the team’s struggles at the World Cup has been its vulnerability on defense, having conceded more goals at the World Cup than any other team.
The holdout against Canada was a first for Nigeria in a World Cup opener, giving the team confidence that its defense could hold up against Australia.
“Everyone is throwing their bodies on the line, defenders, forwards and midfielders,” Nigeria’s Houston Dash defender Michelle Alozie said. “We are defensively sound and we can do that with a really big team.”
The 23-player roster Waldrum selected contains 12 players who are making a Women’s World Cup debut.