Pressure mounts on Nigeria's Super Falcons after fifth straight loss

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Five games, five defeats, 10 goals allowed and a measly two scored, makes for grim reading for any coach, but that is Randy Waldrum's scorecard after his Super Falcons' 2-0 defeat to Japan's Nadeshiko on Thursday.

Mina Tanaka scored twice within a four-minute second half span when the Super Falcons lost all discipline to hand the 2011 world champions victory. And in truth, it could have been more, with goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie earning her keep with multiple saves.

But they nearly got away with it. For the majority of the game, the Falcons stayed in lockstep with their more accomplished opponents, especially in neutral territory, even though they failed to fashion any opportunities of note.

They held their lines, battled bravely in midfield with the ever gutsy Ngozi Okobi-Okeoghene leading the charge and had Japan coach Futoshi Ikeda looking like a ball of nerves for most of the encounter. At least until the first goal in the 64th minute.

Japan won a freekick when centre back Osinachi Ohale and right back Michelle Alozie got into a muddle on what should have been a simple clean up operation. The lobbed set piece proved costly. Tanaka peeled away, took her time to bring the back under control with her chest and fired past Nnadozie.

Four minutes later, Tanaka doubled the advantage from the spot, slipping the offside trap to get in behind before she was clattered into by Ohale as the Falcons previous tactical discipline went out the window.

It is the first time the Super Falcons have lost so many games consecutively and this latest reverse adds to a long pile of unwanted first time records being racked up by the Nigerians under Waldrum and his staff.

The others do not make for any more pleasant reading either, especially as the Women's World Cup draws ever closer. Under normal circumstances, it would have been almost unreasonable to judge the coach on the basis of the results of games against the USA and Japan.

But the entire reason foreign coaches like Waldrum [and Thomas Dennerby before him] were hired was to get over the hump of beating African teams with ease, and then falling short at the first sight of non-African opposition.

Rather than bridge that gap however, Waldrum's tenure appears to have not only widened it, but seen the team regress even in Africa, after they finished fourth at this year's WAFCON, a tournament they've won 11 times.

And that is what the American has been under fire for. A previously unthinkable four losses to African opposition in the space of a few months, to Ghana, South Africa, Morocco and Zambia, are a first and worst of any Super Falcons coach in history.

Three losses at the African championships, two of those consecutively, are also the worst of any Super Falcons coach, and a failure to medal at the tournament, is tied for the worst record of any previous coach. Kadiri Ikhana was the only other coach who got the same result, and he was fired immediately.

Waldrum also has the unenviable record of having lost more games in a calendar year than any other Super Falcons coach.

It is difficult, really, to find a redeeming feature by which to defend the American, even for the coach himself, who chose instead to discount the results and point to qualifying the team for the World Cup.

"I don't put a lot of weight by what everybody outside says or the results of some games where we know half of those games we have not had our full team together," he told ESPN.

"We are coaching the players that we have and I am proud of their development and I think the fans will be proud of their performance at the World Cup."

Waldrum went on to point to Nigeria's struggles at previous tournaments as evidence that things are not what they used to be: "People talk about the team qualifying with ease for the World Cup in previous years.

"Women's football was in a different place then. What you are seeing now in the last two World Cup cycles is that the game has grown and developed in Africa like it has in the rest of the world.

"You are seeing countries like South Africa and Morocco putting a lot of resources into women's football and we have to be careful as a country not to expect to qualify and win the Cup of Nations just because we are Nigeria.

"Even in the last tournament, you advanced to the final and the championship by two games on penalty kicks. It's not like it was a dominant performance in 2018."

It's not to say there have not been improvements in the side, hard as those positives may be to spot, especially in the wake of recent results.

The partnership of Ohale with Ashleigh Plumptre is flourishing and looked good right from the WAFCON, and against Japan, they showed balance, grit and competence for extended periods.

Blessing Demehin showed at the under 20 World Cup and against Team USA that she can be a more than competent, pacy and steely back up, if not knocking on the door of a starting spot.

Over three quarters against number one-ranked USWNT, they more than held their own, and even while being dominated in midfield by Japan, they were not blown away, like the current African champions, who were whitewashed 10-0 by Brazil.

Waldrum insists that that is proof of progress: "Our games with Canada and the USA, (and Japan) have proven that we can play with the very best in the world. It is just getting the players to buy in and believe."

By contrast, the downsides are myriad and the poor results are an accurate reflection. One of the biggest problems is that chances are hardly being created and although the team had 10 shots on goal against Japan's 16, only one of those was on target.

In total, in the six games they have lost going all the way back to that WAFCON opening day defeat against South Africa, the Super Falcons have been outshot 39-11. They have managed just one shot on target in half of those games. That is a major concern for a team that scored for fun against African opposition.

Even forward Ifeoma Onumonu is concerned about the lack of goals, at least for her as a striker: "I'm a little bit in my head right now because I haven't scored in a little bit now, but I am creating opportunities for others and I am starting to feel a little bit better about my game and I am getting back to form."

Set pieces also remain a problem, both in fashioning them and defending against them. Neither goal allowed against Japan came in open play but the defending for the freekick was as amateurish as it was comical.

While there looked to be improvement against the USA, the loss to Japan has opened the door to further scrutiny of the coach, and with a new NFF leadership having been elected just days prior, the pressure is right back on the coach.

He was quick to point to mitigating circumstances: "We had to adjust the line up due to the fact that so many players came in late.

"Eight players arrived two days ago, and then that evening, four more arrived, so we had one day of preparation on the pitch for one hour and we had only 12 players and then other 6 players arrived on the eve of the game.

"So it is not ideal to turnaround and play a match of this quality with 24 hours rest, especially when you travel so long."

That is a reasonable explanation, and one the NFF will have to work towards redressing to give the players time enough to rest, and the coach time enough to do just that, coach.

But time is running out, and the excuses thin. Like one NFF official told ESPN, there is little confidence that the Word Cup will be anything but a disaster.

Said the source: "We will be lucky to return after three matches without being disgraced."