The drumbeat can be heard from a long way away. A small group of fans, who have traveled to support their team from Paris, have gathered in front of the stadium in Reims. They’re singing and dancing. One woman is wearing a green-and-white flag around her hips. “We’re here to cheer on our sisters,” she says. “Our women need female support today.” A friend interrupts her: “Not just female support. There are some men here too. We are all together, sisters and brothers!”
Nigeria needs all the support it can get. The fact the Super Falcons, as the Nigerian women’s football team is known, even made it to the World Cup is almost a miracle. In 2017 the team had no head coach and didn’t play a single game.
“That was really tough,” said Asisat Oshoala. The 24-year-old is the star of the team. She has already been named Africa’s female player of the year on three occasions. She played for Barcelona in the Champions League final this year and although she lost, she scored the first ever goal by an African in a Champions League final. From her home association though, she has long felt neglected though. “We really had to fight,” Oshoala said. “In the end we managed to get a new head coach.”
Support for the Nigeria team was loud and proud
New start for Nigeria
Early on in 2018, Swede Thomas Dennerby took over as head coach. Dennerby is a coach with international coaching experience, having previously coached Sweden’s women’s team. He quickly put together a new team and in December, with a lot of hard work, to victory in the Africa Cup, which secured qualification for the World Cup in the process. That gave the team just six months to prepare for the tournament in France. “We are nearly ready,” Oshoala said during training, with a smile.
Whether she knew the conditions that Nigeria’s first opponents from Norway had for their preparation? Yes, Oshoala knew very well. “In Norway, they’ve invested a great deal in equality between women and men. It’s super and I’m happy for them.”
Norway leading the way for equality
There is a huge gulf between the two teams. In November 2017, when hardly anyone was looking after the women’s team, the Norwegian associated decided to pay the women and men the same amount. To realize that, the men’s international players voluntarily waived part of their budget.
In the women’s game, this step remains unusual. At the World Cup, the Norwegian players are constantly asked about it. “Of course, we are proud of it,” said defender Ingrid Moe Wold. “We are an example to many others.”
And yet the country’s most important player doesn’t think enough is being done. Ada Hegerberg, who was named the first women’s Ballon d’Or winner in December, didn’t travel to the World Cup because she still feels disadvantaged as a woman in Norwegian football. Her teammates are also facing a lot of questions on that matter. The answers are not as patient, as many players find Hegerberg’s stance excessive.
Women’s World Footballer of the Year in 2018: Ada Hegerberg
Moe Wold’s response says a lot: “I don’t really feel like putting more energy into this topic.” Real equality for her means to be taken seriously as an athlete and not just reduced to her role as a woman. “After the tournament, we can definitely talk about what there is left to do. But now we want to concentrate on the World Cup.”
Norwegian journalists covering the World Cup see things the same way. At the press conference the questions are about tactical details and possible lineups. No one asks about the significance of women’s football. Norway’s leading newspaper Aftenposten published a long article describing how foreign media has completely misunderstood the conversation about equality started by Hegerberg. “I don’t understand the question,” a young boy says in Norwegian red. “Why should there be a difference between men and women?”
Nigeria in catch-up mode
In Nigeria, this difference is vast. “Girls have it very hard if they want to play football,” the woman with the green-and-white flag around her hips says. In the Muslim north of the country it’s practically impossible, she continues, as her face suddenly looks more serious. “That’s why it’s so important that the Nigerian women now stand up and support the women’s team.”
Nigeria were hard working but without reward
The differences between Nigeria and Norway were laid bare on the pitch too as they faced off in their opening Group A game. The Super Falcons battled, with individual players showing moments of brilliance. The game together though, wasn’t quite there and they hardly managed any shots. Their system fell apart and the Norwegians earned a deserved 3-0 win.
‘Our time will come’
Oshoala is visibly disappointed as she approaches reporters after the game. She composed herself, laughed again and said: “We will keep giving our best and entertain the fans. That’s our goal.”
The fans outside the stadium are already happy. “Everything needs a start,” one young girl says. “But our time will come,” she said before taking a photo with her friends in front of the stadium, tucking the drum under arm and making her way back to Paris.
SOURCE: Deutsche Welle
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