The United States' opponent may not be as talented, but it's scrappy.
By Associated Press
Published September 25, 2003
PHILADELPHIA - Nigeria's Super Falcons are no match for the American women in overall skills. So they often bring something more to the game: brute force.
It is not necessarily malicious, nor is it always effective. But when the United States plays Nigeria in a first-round World Cup game tonight, it will be physical.
"Nigeria has been a very physical team in the past, but we don't shy away from that kind of game," said forward Cindy Parlow, who scored in the United States' 3-1 victory over Sweden on Sunday. "You don't go into a game afraid of getting hurt because then it's going to happen."
The only two Nigeria-United States games were one-sided American victories. But in the 1999 World Cup, a 7-1 win, and in a 3-1 victory at the 2000 Olympics, U.S. players were roughed up.
"I had cleat marks up and down my legs," defender Kate Sobrero recalled. "Mia (Hamm) had one right across her stomach.
"They are very aggressive, but they don't think they are fouling. They go and cleat you in the face and won't think it's a foul."
Nigeria coach Sam Okpodu says there is no malevolence involved in those tactics, but admits his players are "competitive."
"I don't think you can succeed against teams like the U.S. if you are not aggressive," said the former N.C. State star. "We must play a competitive style, but there is no intention of hurting anyone."
U.S. coach April Heinrichs agrees. She contends the Nigerians simply believe they must contest every ball, and they sometimes get carried away in how they do so.
"They're not the most physical team, per se," Heinrichs said, noting Norway, Canada and China are more physical. "Nigeria has the quickest closing speed and sheer speed. They are on the verge of reckless at times, but I don't find what they are doing to be purposeful. ... We have some courageous players that won't back off. That's part of being a good team. If we want to win a World Cup, we have to adjust our game."
That means many quick, short passes so the Americans are not in precarious positions where they can be fouled. It also could mean more possession time for forward Abby Wambach, a former Florida standout, and midfielder Shannon Boxx, two of the more powerful U.S. players.
Nigeria had 22 fouls in its 3-0 loss to North Korea on Sunday.
A victory will just about clinch a spot in the quarterfinals for the United States. If Sweden beats or ties North Korea in the opener, a U.S. win would advance the defending champs.
The Americans have had one major injury, Brandi Chastain's broken foot. Cat Reddick is expected to start for Chastain, though she likely will play at outside defense and Sobrero would move inside. Sobrero hopes she does not have any run-ins with Patience Avre, the top Nigerian forward.
"My favorite Nigeria story is when Patience Avre took out Joy (Fawcett) in the 2000 Olympics," Sobrero said of the U.S. co-captain who is a mother of three. "She drilled her, and Joy is lying on the ground, and she asks her: "How's your babies?'
"Joy is like, "Are you serious?'
"But that's just the way they play. They think nothing of it."