Reigning African women champions, the Super Falcons of Nigeria, began their campaign at the ongoing African Women’s Cup of Nations in Cameroon with a bang when they walloped hapless neighbours, Mali 6-0.
As expected, African Footballer of the Year and Arsenal Ladies star, Asisat Oshoala, led the rout as she delivered four goals to shoot into the driving seat of the race for the highest goal scorers award on the opening day.
Washington Spirit striker, Francisca Ordega and Sunday Uchechi scored a goal each to complete the thrashing of the Malians at Stade de Municipal in Limbe.
Consequently most Nigeria football fans sang the praises of the Super Falcons as they unanimously concluded that the Falcons would cruise to their eighth AWCON title.
The Falcons won their seventh title in 2014 when they defeated the Indomitable Lionesses of Cameroon 2-0 in Namibia to with the title they had surrendered controversially to Equatorial Guinea in 2012.
However, Falcons second group match against perennial rivals, the Black Queens of Ghana at the ongoing AWCON in Cameroon has set tongues wagging with some saying the inherent weaknesses of the Nigerian ladies were sufficiently exposed and it is not going to be a stroll in the park for them.
The two super powers in women football in Africa ended the tie 1-1 but it was the Black Queens that proved to be the better side of the two.
Although the Falcons drew the first blood early in the encounter when Portia Boakye turned the ball into her own net, the African champions could not hold on to their lead for too long as just before the end of the half, Ghanaian striker Elizabeth Addo stepped forward to convert the resultant penalty awarded after she was fouled in the box.
It will be recalled that the Falcons were rampant against their less endowed opponents in the opening match but failed to maintain the free scoring style against their equally illustrious opponents in the second group game, thereby proving right the assertion that there is no easy match between the two West African nations.
Despite the draw, the Falcons are still leading Group B on goal difference. While they scored six unreplied goals against Mali, the Black Queens struggled to beat Kenya 3-1 in their opening match.
As things stand, Nigeria and Ghana need only a draw in their final group matches to qualify for the semi-finals.
In order to avoid Cameroon in the semi-finals, the Super Falcons must top their Group. To achieve this, they must ensure they beat the whipping ladies of the group, Kenya this afternoon.
If they are able to top the group, they are most likely to meet Egypt in the semi-finals and expect a potential final match against Cameroon or Ghana.
After recording wins against South Africa and Egypt, the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon have booked their semi-final ticket and are waiting for the runner up in Group B to emerge. Their last group match is against Zimbabwe who have just a point just like South Africa.
Mathematically, both South Africa and Egypt still stand a chance of qualifying for semi-finals, if they manage their last group matches well. A convincing win for South Africa over Egypt can hand them the semi-final ticket but a draw will see them exit the championship at the group stage.
If Egypt triumphs over South Africa, Falcons would be up against a less fancied opponent in the semis but if South Africa wins, then the Falcons will face a tougher opponents who have risen to be one of the teams to be reckoned with in African women football.
The draw against the Black Queens must have brought the Falcons down to earth as they have realised that the road to their eighth AWCON title is slippery and must be navigated with utmost care.
On paper, the Super Falcons who parade highly experienced players based abroad are favoured to go all the way to the finals and triumph even if they eventually meet Cameroon again.
However, they have to improve on their last performance against the Black Queens of Ghana. Although a talented side, the Queens are not as loaded with foreign based professionals as the Super Falcons, yet they dominated the second stanza of their match, making the Falcons appear so ordinary.
Interestingly, Falcons coach Florence Omagbemi also acknowledged the poor performance of her players and has since pledged to plug the loopholes in the team.
That is surely the right way to go as the Falcons cannot afford to disappoint their teeming fans who believe they have the wherewithal to win a record eighth AWCON title.
It is therefore the responsibility of the reigning African best player, Asisat Oshoala and her compatriots Desire Oparanozie, Francisca Ordega, Sunday Uchechi, Rita Chikwelu, Ngozi Okobi and Esther Sunday to propel the team to the Promised Land.
Source: Daily Trust.