On the second day of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019, Norway faced Nigeria in Reims for the second fixture of Group A. Norway, along with hosts, France are clear favorites to progress through to the next round. Nigeria on the other hand, have a lot to prove with their exciting mix of veterans and youth. After the 8-0 defeat at the hands of the same rivals in 1995, the worst ever in Women’s World Cup history, the challenge was onto the Super Falcons against a side that was missing the Ballon d’Or winner, Ada Hegerberg.
Under the management of Thomas Dennerby, Nigeria held a lot of promise after a successful run in the West African Zone B Women’s Cup and the Africa Cup of Nations in the last year. Norway have been known to play a direct style of football relying on the technical brilliance of their individual talent. This game saw the more technical and experienced side triumph over the underdogs. In this tactical analysis, we see how it unfolded.
Norway Women: Hjelmseth, Wold, Mjelde, Thorisdottir, Minde, Hansen, Risa, Engen, Reiten, Herlovsen, Utland
Subs: Fiskerstrand, Hovland, Hansen, Thorsnes, Asland, Eikeland, Maanum, Kvamme, Haavi, Saevik, Nautnes, Bogstad
Nigeria Women: Oluehi, Michael, Ohale, Ebi, Ebere, Ayinde, Okobi, Chikwelu, Oshoala, Oparanozie, Ordega
Subs: Nnadozie, Okoronkwo, Nwabuoku, Imo, Uchendu, Kanu, Ajibade, Ihezuo, Okeke, Ogebe, Chukwudi, Jonathan
Norway go direct
Norway deployed their renowned 4-4-2 with a direct style of play. With central defenders like Maren Mjelde and Maria Thorisdottir who are solid in aerial duels and adept with the ball at their feet, the fullbacks Ingrid Moe Wold and Kristine Minde were given a lot of freedom to stretch the play.
They looked to build play from the wide areas using their outside midfielders Caroline Hansen and Guro Reiten. By exploiting the spaces behind the Nigerian midfield the goal was to put an early cross in for their centre forwards.
Nigeria press courageously
You would expect Nigeria to have sat more defensively against a technically superior side such as Norway. But Dennerby was brave and decided to engage them in a mid-to-high press starting with the forwards Asisat Oshoala and Desire Oparanozie.
Dennerby has experimented with a couple of formations with the Super Falcons. The ones that have given them decent success in friendlies against Canada, for example, was the 4-2-3-1. In this game, on paper, Nigeria started off as a 4-3-3, but within the opening minutes it soon became a 4-4-2 with Francisca Ordega utilised on the right wing playing deeper in the defensive phase.
While Oparanozie and Oshoala pressed the back line, the midfielders Rita Chikwelu and Ngozi Okobi worked tirelessly for the first quarter hour giving no room to the grasshoppers in the midfield and forcing them to go wide. The strategy was to play the ball early to Ordega who would try to cross it into Oshoala with an aim to convert, for the brilliant goal-poaching skills the latter is known to possess at Barcelona.
The first quarter hour of the game seemed to see both teams cancel each other out in terms of tactics. Norway found it difficult to manoeuvre the ball in the midfield and found themselves building up from out wide with an ostensibly direct style of play. Nigeria looked to counter after winning the ball with their effective pressing but the defensive pair of skipper Mjelde and Thorisdottir made it an impossible task for them.
Norway managed to score in the 17th minute from a short corner. A shot by Reiten took a steep deflection and found itself in the back of the Nigerian goal putting pressure onto the Super Falcons immediately.
After the first goal, Dennerby quickly switched to a 4-2-3-1 and started to play more defensive. The pressing was not as high as before, and this gave Norway’s centre-halves an opportunity to ping the ball long earlier. The second half even saw Nigeria deploy a 4-1-4-1 and perhaps it was a lot of transformations in a single game for a side that haven’t had a lot of experience playing together.
With the progressing minutes, the Super Falcons also seemed to be losing composure leaving wide areas in the midfield that the midfielders Risa and Engen could exploit. Nigeria’s biggest weakness was their defence that clearly seemed to lack experience. Perhaps it was Dennerby’s tactical approach to press high in order to keep the ball as far as possible from Oluehi’s goal.
With such big gaps in the midfield, the task became harder for the Nigerian back-line and they found themselves enduring waves of attack from Norway for the rest of the first half.
Norway seal the game before half-time
With a nervous keeper and defensive at the mercy of technical forwards such as Utland, Reiten and Herlovsen, the two goals that came in quick succession after the half-hour mark was inevitable. The second goal was the result of a desperate attempt to clear a dangerous cross into the penalty box and was netted in by the centreback Ohale herself.
Trailing by three goals to a side that picked up confidence steadily as the game progressed, it seemed impossible for Nigeria to see themselves back into the game. An unfortunate injury made things even complicated for Dennerby. However, all credit to the West African side for a relentless battle till the final whistle and a goalless second half.
Over-reliance on Oshoala?
Just before the start of the tournament in France, Asisat Oshoala, the starlet who was loaned to Barcelona signed permanent transfer until 2022. Her ability to find herself at the right place at the right time meant the burden of scoring big goals in this tournament would clearly fall on her shoulders.
However, this fixture manifested a game model that heavily relied on Oshoala to convert the chances for Nigeria. Although she found herself at the end of crosses and counter attacks, the presence of experienced defenders added a lot of pressure on the 24 year old. Nigeria must world on incorporating others into the game to try and last longer in the attacking phase as it is unrealistic for them to ensure any success in this competition relying on a single player.
Norway yet to face a real test
It is fair to say that the goals for Norway came in early and with a tinge of fortune. The nervy Super Falcons made it easy for the grasshoppers to engage in vertical passing without much difficulty to reach the final third.
Although Norway are clearly one of the most successful sides in women’s football, their real test would be against teams such as France and Spain that engage in a more positional style of play. It would be interesting to see how Martin Sjogren can adapt his direct playing style to create the same number of chances for the grasshoppers.
Both teams face more formidable opponents next Wednesday. Norway face the hosts France who display incredible form currently, while Nigeria will have to be more composed on the ball as they face South Korea. In this game, both teams enjoyed similar shots on target, but Norway were more clinical, due to the technical abilities of their players and the lack of experience of the Nigerians.
As the tournament progresses, the teams indeed grow in terms of chemistry and dynamics. For a side like Nigeria who did not play a single game in 2017, it is a unique experience in itself to adapt as quickly as possible and find their rhythm in order to see hopes of a spot into the next round.
If you are following the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019 then you will find our FREEtactical preview magazine the perfect compliment to the tournament. You can download it HERE – each nation is previewed and we also profile their key player and young playerto watch. Enjoy!