While the World Cup hasn’t been perfect so far for the USWNT, it certainly hasn’t been a disaster. The United States followed up their 3-1 victory over Australia with a dull 0-0 draw against Sweden, with neither team showing the talent or determination to win.
The best chance of the entire game came in the 77th minute, when a Swedish attacker rocketed a ball towards the goal to score what would have been the only goal of the match. Luckily for USWNT fans, Meghan Klingenberg, the team’s speedy left back, was there to save the day, ricocheting the Swedish shot off the crossbar and away from danger. While Sweden looked dangerous at times, the United States was clearly the fitter, deeper squad, which will certainly help them in the knockout stage, as long as they don’t collapse against Nigeria.
The USWNT currently sits atop Group D, and a win against Nigeria will guarantee them a win in the group, therefore solidifying easier travel, easier opponents, and an easier route to the World Cup final.
Player to Watch for USA: Abby Wambach
The most famous player on this USWNT roster has been relatively quiet during this World Cup. Wambach started against Australia and came on as a substitute against Sweden, but was unable to score in either game. The reason, according to Wambach, is that the games are played on artificial turf, not grass. While many fans see this as an excuse for Abby’s aging body not being able to handle the rigors it once could, she has a point–and also no choice but to adapt to the playing surface. If the USWNT is going to make the run to the final that many predict, they will need Abby Wambach to snap out of her scoring slump and propel her team to victory.
Player to Watch for Nigeria: Asisat Oshoala
The Nigerian women’s team, much like their male counterparts, are a team defined by their creativity and athleticism, specifically the speed with which they get forward. Nowhere is that more apparent than the play of Asisat Oshoala. The Nigerian forward earned a spot on this team after her play in the Under-20 Women’s World Cup, which saw her earn Player of the Tournament after becoming the competition’s top scorer. Accompanying that honor was a move from her native Nigeria to the Liverpool Ladies team, where she currently plays. Nonetheless, she plays hard for her country every game, and this competition she will have some extra motivation. At just 20 years old, Oshoala has a very bright future ahead of her, and containing this speedy forward will be key to the success of the USWNT.
Prediction: USA wins 3-0
While the United States has had trouble scoring goals over their past few matches, Nigeria is notorious for its lack of defensive organization. While Sweden’s tactics made it difficult for the USWNT to break them down, the Nigerians will likely allow Wambach and Sydney Leroux to operate much more freely. Additionally, the knowledge that a win against Nigeria will guarantee them supremacy in Group D will likely be a huge motivating factor for the United States, as they look for an easier matchup in the knockout rounds. Look for a flurry of goals from a USWNT that is rarely held goalless, as they were against Sweden, and an overmatched Nigerian team that cannot handle the experience or technicality of this U.S. side. Nigeria will certainly use their speed to get chances, but ultimately, the United States will prove too much for the African champions and will win this game and the group.