“I remember that game,” said Nigeria’s Uchechi Sunday, casting her mind back four years to the final between the Super Falconets and the host nation at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Germany 2010. “I was on the bench feeling really nervous and apprehensive, hoping that my team would score.”
Her team did not score, with Die Mannschaft running out 2-0 winners. But as fate would have it, Sunday and her team-mates will have the opportunity to avenge that result in Montreal tomorrow.
“It’s going to be a different story this time,” she vowed to FIFA.com. “In 2010 they were playing at home, with all their fans behind them, but that won’t be the case here. This final against Germany is also coming at a good time for me, because I’ve got a lot more experience now.”
Sunday was a mere 15-year-old when she represented her country at Germany 2010 and is the only member of Nigeria’s Canada 2014 squad who was present at those finals. “I was the youngest player in the team but I had two friends with me and they helped me a lot during the competition,” she explained. “They kept encouraging me the whole time.”
Older and wiser, Sunday is now offering support to her most inexperienced team-mates and to the team as a whole, chipping in with three goals despite having started every game on the bench, two of those strikes coming straight after entering the fray. Though happy with her haul, she still has one objective to fulfil: “I usually score a lot of goals with my head but I haven’t got one in Canada yet. Maybe it’ll come on Sunday.”
Doing it the hard way
As she went on to explain, Sunday has had to fight hard to get where she is today: “I started out playing in the street with the boys after school. We played on dirt pitches. Then I enrolled at an academy but it’s not easy to play football in Nigeria, especially if you’re a girl. What you need in situations like that is for your parents to support you, which is what mine did. It gives you the strength to carry on.”
The forward was rewarded for her perseverance with that trip to Germany 2010 and a call-up to the full national team in 2011, though she missed out on a place in the U-20 side that travelled to Japan 2012, a setback that has only stiffened her resolve ahead of Sunday’s showdown. “This final is very special for me,” she said in anticipation of it.
The Super Falconets have been preparing for the occasion for a long time, having already spent three months away from their families. “It’s a lot easier thanks to mobiles and the internet,” said Sunday. “I talk to them a lot on Skype and they’re very happy for me. When we speak my mother always shouts: ‘Hey that’s my daughter! You’re doing great. I’m very proud of you’.”
Bursting into a laugh, Sunday added: “I tell you one thing: I can’t wait to get home. I’m dying to see them all, especially my mum.”
Nigeria not alone
When she returns to her home town of Port Harcourt, Sunday will go back to watching her beloved Liverpool. “They’re my team! I love the way they play, and I adore Steven Gerrard and the whole ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ thing.”
Nigeria have not been walking alone in Canada, where a loyal band of fans has been cheering them on at every match and is sure to be doing so again come the final in Montreal.
For their part, the players are planning to repeat their customary pre-match ritual and sing and dance their way to the Olympic Stadium. “We have to sing and dance even more this Sunday,” said the fun-loving forward. “We have to make even more noise.”
Rounding off our chat on a typically optimistic note, Sunday spoke of her hopes of avenging that final defeat four years ago: “The only thing that’s in my mind is that I can’t lose two finals, and both of them to Germany. We’ve got to win this Sunday. I don’t care how. And we’re going to do it too.”