July, 3 2022.
Nigeria and South Africa have another day in the sun as the Super Falcons and Banyana Banyana go to war for three points, in the opening game of Group C of the 12th Women Africa Cup of Nations which began in Morocco on Saturday.
Nine-time champions and FIFA World Cup ever-present Nigeria have not forgotten how, 10 months ago and on home soil, the youthful Banyana squad ran away spectacular 4-2 winners in the final match of the first edition of Aisha Buhari Women’s Tournament. Venue was the Mobolaji Johnson Arena in Lagos.
Since then, however, the Falcons have flown with formidable wings, eliminating West African arch-rivals Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire in the qualifying series for the WAFCON and coming close to stripping the ‘A’ Women Team of Canada in the second of a two-match tour in that country three months ago.
Monday’s spectacle will see Coach Randy Waldrum send out his best legs against a team considered Nigeria’s strongest opposition on the African continent at the moment, and Coach Desiree Ellis is expected to do likewise as both teams of titanesses battle for crucial three points at the Moulay Hassan Stadium.
“Naturally, this is a very big game and we are looking forward to it. It is also a game that should be a good advertisement for African women football. When you have Nigeria playing South Africa at the senior women level, it is a treat.
“Our objectives and expectations remain the same: to earn a ticket to the World Cup and to win the trophy. We will take it one match at a time. It is interesting to play South Africa first, and we can move ahead from there.”
Team captain Onome Ebi, who is the oldest player at the competition at 39, has featured in five FIFA World Cup finals, and still looks vibrant enough to feature at the FIFA World Cup in Australia & New Zealand next year: “For me, it is a good thing that we are playing South Africa first. It is a strong team and that will make our team to be strong and to give our best from the very beginning.
“I have won this trophy several times but I still have the hunger to win it, and also to go to a sixth World Cup. We will look first to pick up the World Cup ticket, and then the trophy.”
Nigeria will be without first choice goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie, who is suspended for receiving yellow cards in different matches of the qualifying series (against Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire), meaning Israel –based Tochukwu Oluehi could be between the sticks for the Super Falcons against the Banyana on Monday night.
In Saturday’s opening match, Morocco’s Atlas Lionesses pipped Burkina Faso 1-0 to surge to the top of Group A.
There are four teams in each of the three groups of the 12-team finals, with the top two teams in each of the groups and two best third-placed teams proceeding to the quarter finals.
All the four semi-finalists will represent Africa at next year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup finals, with the fifth-placed team to be eligible for a Playoff Tournament that will hold next year.