The Super Falcons of Nigeria will be making a third straight appearance at the Africa Women’s Cup of Nations (AWCON) final when they face-off with Banyana Banyana of South Africa on Saturday.
However, it is important to take a retrospective look at how the defending champions have fared so far in the competition.
The Super Falcons kicked off the campaign with a listless performance in their opening encounter against South Africa’s Banyana Banyana, who ran out with a 1-0 victory.
Some termed it a wake-up call or the perfect result Nigeria needed to know that women’s football in Africa is on the rise and if nothing is done to improve on our preparation for future tournaments, it would be difficult to go far.
Looking back, it was a close and tight match. A game of limited goalscoring chances were you needed to be clinical or rue the missed chance(s). It was the kind of game decided by an odd goal or a moment of individual brilliance.
At the end, Nigeria was defeated by South Africa, courtesy of Kgatlana Thembi, who put struck a superb volley past Tochukwu Oluehi in the Nigerian goal. Despite curtailing them all game long, a split second loss in concentration and they got behind the Nigerian defence for the first time and scored with a half chance while Nigeria failed to convert a major chance earlier in the game.
On match day two, following the opening day loss, the Super Falcons were third in Group B and needed a convincing win against Zambia who topped the group on goals difference after defeating Equatorial Guinea 5-0. It was a nervy start for the Falcons but the breakthrough eventually came in the 41st minute through Desire Oparanozie who redeemed herself after her miss against South Africa. From then on, the Falcons dominated proceedings creating loads of chances and eventually converting four more.
With Equatorial Guinea conceding twelve goals against Zambia and South Africa, a win over Equatorial Guinea was all the Super Falcons needed to book a semi-final place. And just after 10 minutes of play the floodgates opened as the Super Falcons eventually won by six unreplied goals to set up a semi-final meeting with Group A winners, Cameroon.
Going into the game against Caneroon, the World Cup ticket and bragging rights were at stake especially with the Cameroonian coach insisting that his team will be out for revenge against the Falcons, but the defending champions came into the game prepared for a tough encounter.
The Indomitable Lionesses of Cameroon started the brightest, controlling possession for the greater part of the game while the Falcons struggled to string together five passes as they needlessly gave away possession in a sloppy first half display.
The trio of Francisca Ordega, Oparanozie and Asisat Oshoala were hardly allowed any room to operate in attack against a very physical Cameroonian side. Ngozi Okobi tried to pull the strings from the middle but was usually muscled off the ball. In all of this, the Nigerian defence stood out especially the centre back pairing of Onome Ebi and Osinachi Ohale; dealing with every potential threat hauled at them and the Nigerian goal.
It was the Cameroonian attack against the Nigerian defence and after 120 minutes of football with no goals scored, the Super Falcons came out on top, converting four of their penalties while Cameroon could only put two past an excellent Oluehi in the Nigerian goal.
The semi-final against Cameroon was a very good test for the Falcons who have now set up a final clash with Banyana Banyana of South Africa. Ahead of that game, the Nigerian goalkeeper has reiterated that concentration will be key to victory.
“The defence has been so good and solid throughout the tournament so tomorrow is all about concentration. The same concentration we displayed against Cameroon is what we will give out against South Africa.”
On Saturday, the Super Falcons will look to right the wrongs of that opening day disappointment in the group phase of AWCON 2018, losing to South Africa.
But the pertinent question remains, will a new AWCON winner emerge or will the Super Falcons will seal a third consecutive win?