Super Falcons have experienced much neglect in the Nigeria Football Federation since their last continental victory in the Women's Nations Nations Cup of 2016. The team start the title defense against much more prepared in South Africa today on the 2018 edition of the competition reports IDRIS ADESINA
2018 African Women's Cup Nations began in Ghana on Saturday with matches between Ghana hosts Algeria and Cameroon and Mali.
But defending the champion, Nigeria, kick start the headline title against South Africa on Sunday (today) at the Cape Coast Stadium. The writer Falcons won their eighth AWCON title two years ago at Cameroon and will look for one of the three slots of the 2019 World Cup for Women in France, and will add another victory to their past acclaim.
With Falcons making the 11th appearance and Banyana making their 10th in the competition, Nigeria hopes to continue their dominance on the South African side and has greatly improved motivation. South Africans are coming to the tournament as champions of women's COSAFA Cup.
Beniana Beniana was more busy than the "Pokons" playing friendly games with teams from Europe, South America and Africa. Well motivated with cash by their national sponsors, Banyana and Nina have their sights on one of the 2019 Women's World Cup slots.
It is expected that the Falcons will be overrun by their South African opponents and won the title eight out of 10 times and only lost the title twice to Equatorial Guinea. They finished in third place once in 2008 and did not win a medal in the tournament once in 2012. South Africa, for their part, are three runners up to 2004, 2014 and 2016. They finished their third year in 2002 and 2012.
Entering the game, Nigeria hold a huge advantage against South Africa after winning nine times in 11 meetings in the history of the competition while the South Africans have only won one victory, which was a 1-0 victory in the semi-final clash in Equatorial Guinea 2012. Their last encounter was in the semifinals of The 2016 edition when Nigeria recorded a 1-0 win.
The Falcons are the continent's most successful national team and enter the tournament as solid favorites. But many stakeholders remain to wonder the continued lip service paid by the Nigeria Football Federation team.
The 2012 World Cup final of the quarter finalists is probably the least prepared team in the tournament. Since they won their title in Cameroon two years ago, the team remained without tangible activity until the foci for the 2018 edition began in June – when they wopoped Gambia 7-0 on aggregate to qualify.
The most successful women's team in Africa was without a coach for one year – after the expiration of 2010 coach Florence Umbami's contract – until the NFF announced Swede Thomas Dunrby as coach in January. The team played a friendly match against France in February, where they were wopoped 8-0. Since qualifiers, the team has just started camping for AWCON less than a month ago in Epe, Lagos state.
Less than two weeks ago, much to the astonishment of the group's many followers, they embarked on the final preparations for the 2018 AWCON in Abigene dressed in the Mufti, looking very similar to the hastily assembled team. The team traveled to Abigail in another attire, with reports claiming that their kits were held at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, due to the lack of funds to clear them.
Also, the group is allegedly committed to bonuses totaling $ 6,000 per player for their AWCON 2018 winnings and wins over Gambia in Banjul and Lagos. They also must owe camp allowances for the competition.
"Yes, we still owe $ 6,000 for two games against Gambia, and since we started camping for the competition, we have not received any allowances and we are going to the competition without guaranteeing bonuses," said one of the players, who spoke anonymously.
While in the Ivory Coast, the team continued to face the under-16 team of ASEC Mimosas, who lost 3-1, before winning a 4-2 win over the 11 sisters on the Babbage side in their second friendly game.
Former Falcons midfielder Stella Mbachu wondered what such friends would do for the team compared to the level of resistance they face in the tournament.
"It's really a sad situation that the Falcons have to go through, but unfortunately, it's been like that since we were in the team … We were hoping the situation would improve, but there was no change." The team goes on a title defense to play a few small teams when their opponents play tough opponents leaving a lot to be imagined, she said.
Although they were welcomed with songs and dances in Ghana on Wednesday, Falcons did not have the honor of traveling in style to the host country. It was reported that they traveled with the teams of Zambia and Cameroon, who were also stationed in the Ivory Coast.
However, it is not all doom for Falcons as Dennerby has the talent and experience at his disposal to secure the achievement of his goals – defending the title and trophy in the World Cup. Dennerby will rely on the experience of Captain Rita Chikwelu, who will be making her sixth appearance in Ghana, and veteran defender Onome Ebi, who is making her eighth appearance in the competition. Ngozi Okobi and Desire Oparanozie, who make their fourth appearances respectively, are also key members of the team while the current African women's player of the year Asisat Oshoala adds to the possibilities of the Swedish tactician.
Dunerby and his assistants – Swede Jurgen Peterson; Justin Madog and Maureen Madu – they also have the merit of the former Falconettes stars, Iwanzuo Iwanzuo and Rasheedat Ajibade, who make their debut in AWCON, to add the experienced players. Age 18 is the best player in the local league and can add value to the team. Star FC Robo, if given a chance in the tournament, can prove itself as one of the best forward in the continent.
The Falcons also play COSAFA Cup runners up Zambia and Equatorial Guinea in their group and other matches enroute for their title defense. They will meet all hosts Ghana, Cameroon, Algeria and Mali from the semi-finals. The Gunners won the WAFU 2018 Women's Championship after defeating Nigeria in the semifinals.
Denarby said that the focus of his team was on the qualification of the World Cup.
He said, "Our ambition is to win the tournament but it is important to ensure our ticket to 2019 World Cup in France.Of course, we know it will never be easy because there is a great improvement of many teams, so it is important to have preparation if you want to win games.
I have 59 years but now I am lucky to have experience from both World Cups, two Olympics, two European Championships and as a main coach for so many clubs as well as playing in the Champions League. Focus on our work and not guess too much, I think we're going to be in a good tournament in Ghana. "
Captain Civolo responded to her coach.
"We want to qualify for the FIFA World Cup because we believe we should be out playing against the best teams in the world." Personally, it is my desire to see the Super Falcons reach the semifinals at the Women's World Cup and Ghana 2018 is an opportunity to show us what we are capable of doing. Nigerians pray for us so that we can reach the World Cup as well as win the AWCON Cup, "she said.
But former Falcons midfielder Mbachu warns the team against complacency.
She said, "Everyone expects Nigeria to win but given the team's preparation and the lack of motivation of the players, the work will be tough." The talents are there but they have to be motivated and well prepared to ensure that they give the best in every game.
"The other teams are not what Nigeria used to be when they beat them with five goals, the margins are very limited now, and the Falcons do not have to underestimate any team in Ghana, otherwise it can not upset any of them."
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