Nigeria's AWCON hopes boosted by efforts against Canada

Futbol Americas predict the NSWL Shield champions (1:16)

Sebastian Salazar explains his pick to come out on top in the regular season of the NWSL. (1:16)

Nigeria coach Randy Waldrum recently led his side in two fixtures against Olympic gold medallists Canada, in preparation for the Africa Women's Cup of Nations, and feels the test set them up well for World Cup qualification.

The AWCON, which will be played in Morocco in July, serves as the qualification tournament for the FIFA Women's World Cup next year, and Waldrum was heartened by his side's 2-2 draw against Canada in April, even without his best players.

The former Houston Dash coach told ESPN after the AWCON draw on Friday: "It was huge for our team and our country to get a result against such a quality team.

"We all understand how the game went. They created lots of opportunities and I think we fought very hard and did better collectively defense-wise, and I thought we created more chances so I'm really proud of the players.

"We needed those games to find out our strength and get exposed. Playing teams like the Olympic gold medallists Canada and playing well shows us the heights we are capable of achieving.

"We must remain focused and continue improving in some areas in order to become a world power which we are capable of achieving."

Nigeria played those game without some key players, like injured Barcelona star Asisat Oshoala, and Waldrum said going into AWCON with the full complement of his squad will make a huge difference.

He said: "Players like Asisat and Desire Oparanozie... Esther [Okoronkwo] was not there, Vivian [Ikechukwu] was not there upfront, [Osinache] Ohale who starts for us normally at the back wasn't there.

"That's just a few to name. It would be a different squad, but a lot of these players would be in the mix for our team selection."

In the wake of the AWCON draw, where the Super Falcons were placed with South Africa, Burundi, and Botswana, Waldrum lamented that CAF's "unfortunate" qualification process deprived the best teams from representing the continent at the World Cup.

Conspicuously missing at the draw were two of Africa's top five ranked teams, Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire. Both teams were eliminated from the AWCON following CAF's decision to adopt regional qualifiers, which left both teams to battle for one ticket against top-ranked Nigeria.

Waldrum was not exactly pleased by the format, even though his side came out on top and will certainly benefit from not having to content with Ghana at AWCON.

He added: "It was unfortunate the way teams were matched up. Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire both are worthy of being in the World Cup. Seems to me, CAF would want its best teams representing Africa."

Without Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire, South Africa and Cameroon present the strongest opposition to the Super Falcons extending their record of qualifying for every World Cup since inception in 1999.

South Africa's Banyana Banyana have proven to be something of a bogey side for the Super Falcons in recent years. They beat the Nigerians in the opening game of the 2018 AWCON tournament in Ghana, and then held them to a draw in the Final before losing on penalty kicks.

Recently, the South Africans beat the Falcons to win the Aisha Buhari Cup in Lagos, putting even more pressure on the Nigerians, and Waldrum added: "We respect South Africa but we also know the situation the last time we played them.

"We will be ready and prepared to win just as we will be with all the teams in our group."

Nigeria open their campaign for a record-extending 10th title, and fourth on the bounce, against South Africa on July 4, before facing Botswana on July 7 and rounding up their group campaign on July 10 against Burundi.