Sevilla’s Toni Payne Dreams Of World Cup Success With Super Falcons
Former U.S. youth international, Toni Payne, is revelling in playing in the green-and-white colours of Nigeria, and has set herself the lofty goals of winning major tournaments with the Super Falcons.
After making her international debut for Nigeria at the Turkish Women’s Cup in February, the Sevilla striker was impressed by her new teammates and told ESPN that the quality in the team had given her the confidence that the Falcons could accomplish great things at major tournaments.
“My ambitions in the squad would be to win some major tournaments like the World Cup and play in an Olympics and win an Africa Cup of Nations,” Payne, a Duke alum, said.
AFCON success might be the most likely, with the Super Falcons being record repeat champions at African level, but Payne is convinced the team can achieve the same results at a global level.
The Falcons have been past the World Cup group stages only twice, 20 years apart, and they have not progressed beyond the group stages at an Olympic Games since their first outing in 2000.
Nigeria won all three fixtures in Turkey earlier this year, rounding out their trophy-winning campaign with a 9-0 victory against Equatorial Guinea.
“Before that tournament, it had been quite a while since the girls had been together in a camp as a squad, and yet everyone seemed to be gelling quite quickly and coming together in a distinct style of play, and things were coming together quite smoothly,” Payne said.
“So, I think with the players that are in the team, and also the coaching staff, I think definitely the Falcons have a really strong potential to win major tournaments.”
Payne, whose parents are from Nigeria, is not new to winning titles. Born in the Alabama, she suited up for the the U.S. at youth level, helping them to win the 2012 CONCACAF Women’s Under-17 title, alongside current USWNT players Jane Campbell, Andi Sullivan, and Midge Purce.
With that under her belt, and after a spell at Ajax in Amsterdam, she decided in 2019 to switch her international allegiance to Nigeria; but it took two years to do so, due a combination of the COVID-19 pandemic and getting her paperwork in order with FIFA.
Those developments cost her the chance to represent Nigeria at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France, when the Super Falcons equalled their best performance from 1999 in making the Round of 16.
Payne said: “I was obviously disappointed, but realising that things happen for a reason and when it’s the right time then the things will fall into place.
“So, I knew hopefully at some point I’ll have my opportunity and when I have it I’m going to make the most of it. So, it was unfortunate to miss out but I was still supporting the team from home and just waiting for my next opportunity.”
That opportunity presented itself in February, when, with her paperwork completed, new coach Randy Waldrum included her in the squad to play in Turkey. Payne made an immediate impression as Waldrum handed her a surprise start in the first game against CSKA Moscow.
“It was a very exciting and pleasant surprise. I told my family and friends, and everyone was really happy for me,” she said.
“I was also surprised when I was on the starting list. Players were just coming into camp and had the first match after [minimal] training, and I think Randy had to make those [snap] decisions.”
Payne proved herself capable in that first game, the second against Uzbekistan was even better and she really came into her own in the third fixture against Equatorial Guinea.
Payne, playing in a less-than-familiar position, first set up Uchenna Kalu and then scored a spectacular individual goal of her own, running through three defenders to hit an unstoppable effort as the Super Falcons ran out 9-0 winners.
Payne’s transition from U.S. junior international to senior Nigeria international may not have been straightforward, but, in hindsight, it seems like it was always going to be a natural progression. Her father, Oyeleke Payne, has always been a big fan of Nigerian football and got his children involved from an early age.