Reigning African champions, the Super Falcons of Nigeria are set to open their campaign at the 2022 Africa Women Cup of Nations (AWCON) as they square up with arch-rivals, the Bayanya Bayana of South Africa in the first Group C match on Monday, July 4 at Moulay Hassan FUS, Rabat, Morocco.
Clearly the most formidable and successful women’s team in Africa, the Super Falcons who won their first AWCON trophy in 1991 are in the hunt for their tenth title having amassed nine titles already.
The Randy Waldrum girls are grouped along with South Africa, Botswana, and Burundi in Group C of the 12th African Women Cup of Nations (AWCON) in Morocco.
It would also be recalled that qualifying for Morocco 2022 wasn’t a stroll in the park for the Nigerian ladies as they had to avoid an early exit after a nerve-wracking 2-1 aggregate victory against arch-rivals Black Queens of Ghana despite suffering their first-ever loss in the qualifier’s history, a 1-0 loss in Accra.
After surviving the Black Queens scare, they then achieved a double over Ivory Coast with a 3-0 aggregate victory, maintaining their hopes of winning their fourth straight and tenth continental title.
With the ticket to Morocco secured, Randy Waldrum knew the task ahead needed early preparations and the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) swung into action to organise two high-profile international friendly matches with reigning Olympics champions Canada.
The Super Falcons suffered a 2-0 defeat in the opening game in Vancouver before again surrendering the advantage to draw 2-2 in the return encounter three days later in Victoria City.
Beginning from Monday, Waldrum who has led the Super Falcons to victories over their two toughest West African opponents, Ghana and Ivory Coast, to reach the 12th finals will attempt to lead the team to a 10th continental title and FIFA Women’s World Cup ticket but he must first overcome one of Nigeria’s eternal rivals, South Africa.
The football tactician is exuding so much confidence as he has said his side is better prepared to get the maximum points when they face the Bayana Bayana in their opening match.
If they are to come out in flying colours against the South Africans who appear to have overcome their phobia for them, the African champions must watch closely these five South African ladies.
They are 36-year-old defender Noko Matlou, Refiloe Jane who plays in the midfield as well as Linda Motlhalo, winger/forward Jermaine Seoposenwe and the deadly Thembi Kgatlana.
Speaking to NFF TV, Waldrum acknowledged the potency of their opponents while recalling the 4-2 loss to the South African side at the maiden edition of the Aisha Buhari Cup at the Mobolaji Johnson Stadium, Onikan, Lagos in 2021.
“I am thinking of qualifying for the World Cup as it has always been the goal even though we want to win the Nations Cup. I think we are prepared as regards our previous games and we have to thank the president for giving us the opportunities to play those games.
“We have a lot of attacking options to choose from and we have lots of players that can interchange. We will be more prepared against South Africa this time and we are looking forward to the match. They are a quality team and one of the best in Africa,” he said.
To ensure he begins the campaign on a winning note, he has rested the hopes of over 200m Nigerians on the experienced legs of some key players who will run the show with the support of some young and fresh legs.
Following the words of legendary coach, Sir Alex Ferguson who famously said that ‘attack wins you games, defence wins you titles’, Waldrum has called on Onome Ebi who at 39 years will be the oldest player at this year’s AWCON tournament in Morocco. Since her debut in 2003, she has gone on to win 4 AWCON trophies.
The veteran center-back, who was assistant captain at Ghana 2018 when the Super Falcons won their ninth title has been given the captaincy role for Morocco 2022.
With her fifth Women’s World Cup appearance, Ebi holds an African record, and she will seek to lead Nigeria to a record tenth title in her seventh appearance.
Speaking with NFF TV, Ebi said the game against South Africa will prepare and strengthen the team for the remaining group matches and the knock-out stages.
“Playing South Africa will be a very good game and it will be an opportunity for us to play against a good team and prepare us well to reach the finals. The game will strengthen the team more. We are going for nothing but victory,” she declared.
Onome is expected to be partnered with Leicester City center back and vice-captain of the team, Ashleigh Plumptre. It would be recalled that the City girl made her official debut in February 2022 and was very impressive in the 2-0 win over Ivory Coast during the qualifying series.
The defence line will also have Santa Teresa’s Glory Ogbonna, Deportivo Alaves’ Osinachi Ohale, West Virginia University’s Nicole Payne, Houston Dash’s Michelle Alozie and Edo Queens’ Akudo Ogbonna.
The midfield is expected to be marshalled by the evergreen Madrid CFF’s Rita Chikelu and enterprising Athletico Madrid’s Rasheedat Ajibade and Eskilstuna FC’s Ngozi Okobi-Okeoghene. Others are Kiryat Gat’s Peace Efih, Eskilstuna FC’s Halimatu Ayinde, Sevilla FC’s Toni Payne, Minsk FC’s Regina Otu and SL Benfica’s Christy Ucheibe.
And to win the game on Monday, Waldrum will need the attack line to fire on all cylinders and will be counting on Barcelona’s Asisat Oshoala who earned a reputation for herself in the 2014 and 2016 editions, where she was named Best Player and Highest Goalscorer. It is also important to note that the Barcelona Femeni star is four-time and current African Women’s Footballer of the Year who scored 19 goals for her club in 16 games last season.
She will be complemented by a very rich array of lethal, intelligent and fast thinking forwards such the experienced CSKA Moscow striker, Francisca Ordega, Bayelsa Queens’ Gift Monday who led her team to emerge the 2021/2022 NWFL Premiership Super Six champions recently and Uchenna Kanu, who scored 10 goals in five games to led the Super Falcons to victory in the 2019 WAFU B Women’s Cup.
Others who will attempt to lead the front line when called upon are Vivian Ikechukwu (WFC Gintra, Lithuania); Chinonyerem Macleans (GSK Gornik Leczna, Poland); Ifeoma Onumonu (NY/NJ Gotham FC, USA) and Uchenna Kanu (Tigres Femenil, Mexico).
Meanwhile, the sports minister, Sunday Dare, has charged the Super Falcons to go for glory at the tournament.
Dare told the ladies to put their past record of successes in the tournament behind them and fight with temerity, discipline and purpose to pick their tenth title which will cement Nigeria’s dominance in women’s football on the continent.