- Thomas Dennerby took charge of Nigeria in January 2018
- France 2019 will be his second FIFA Women’s World Cup as coach
- Match against hosts France will be a unique experience
Preparation is everything when it comes to succeeding at a FIFA Women’s World Cup™, a fact Thomas Dennerby is very much aware of. He took over as head coach of Nigeria’s women’s national team in January 2018 and jumped at the chance to take his team to the Cyprus Cup.
“First of all I was very happy that we had this opportunity,” the Swede told FIFA.com. “Playing at a tournament like this is extremely important for a team like the Super Falcons. We played against teams that are ranked a bit higher. That gave us a lot of experience.”
Nigeria met Austria, Slovakia, Belgium and Thailand at the competition. “We were a bit unlucky in the first game [against Austria] and we can almost forget about it. We got a red card just after six minutes, but actually we did well in the first half. But when you play with only ten players for such a long time then you start to get tired.” That proved to be costly for his side, who eventually slipped to a 4-1 defeat.
“If you look at the games after that, we played really well against Slovakia in the first half, but we lost a bit of concentration in the second,” Dennerby continued. “There were three penalties in the last 20 minutes, but we won 4-3. Our attacking play in that game was good. We had some really nice link-ups.
“I think our match against Belgium was probably our weakest game. We were very slow, we didn’t react and only acted after something had happened. We were better in our final match against Thailand – we worked more as a team again. If you put the game against Austria to one side, then we only let in one goal from open play. But I’m sorry to say that for different reasons we conceded too many goals from set pieces.”
That has left the 59-year-old and his coaching staff with plenty of work still to do, and not only in defence. “We definitely need to work on our attacking play,” he said. “It’s one thing to score four times against Slovakia and three times against Thailand, but when you go to a World Cup where we will play against Norway, Korea Republic and France, it will be a totally new challenge for the players. We need to work on creating chances against the best teams. We need to work on our build-up play and trying to give the players more confidence on the ball.”
If that is a big challenge for the squad, it is for the coaching staff too: the players are extremely loyal to them, but are reluctant to make any mistakes. “They really want to do the best and do the right thing,” said Dennerby, who guided Sweden to third place at the 2011 Women’s World Cup. “I’m not saying they don’t do that in Europe, but in Nigeria they’re more extreme. It’s good in many ways, but also very heavy on their shoulders because they want to be so loyal. They need to feel free, that they can make mistakes. They will get a smile from the coach anyway.”
It is a smile intended to give his Super Falcons self-belief as they look to learn and grow from their errors. After all, fortune favours the bold.
“We have a really tough group, no doubt about it,” Dennerby said. “I think we have a really good chance to have a good game against Norway and also against South Korea. And hopefully, if I can dream a little, three of four points when we come to the final match against France so that we can have that feeling of: ‘Wow this is a once-in-a-lifetime game against the host nation.’ If I were still a player, it would be the game of my life.”