IN their first group game in the just concluded Total Africa Women Cup of Nations hosted by Ghana, Nigeria’s representatives, the Super Falcons, got off to a less than assuring start, losing 1-0 to South Africa. The goal was scored by Houston Dash striker, Thembi Kgatlana, who would go on to finish as the tournament’s leading scorer with five goals, claiming the Woman of the Tournament and Top Scorer awards in the process. Although Nigeria’s unexpected loss to the Banyana Banyana was only its second defeat by that country in more than two decades, it triggered fears among Nigerians that perhaps the women’s team was no longer the supreme force of yore.
Those fears were promptly laid to rest as the Super Falcons put their next two oppositions to the sword, scoring four and six unreplied goals against Zambia’s Shepolopolo and the Nzalang Nacional of Equatorial Guinea respectively. In the semi-final and final matches against Cameroon and South Africa respectively, the Super Falcons were bailed out by the penalty-saving heroics of Norway-based goalkeeper Tochukwu Oluehi, after both matches had ended scoreless within regulation time.
In the event, and just as the majority of pundits had predicted at the start of the tournament, the Super Falcons claimed their ninth women’s continental title, eleventh overall if you include the two tournaments held in 1991 and 1995 before the biennial format began in 1998. The Super Falcons have now won all but two of the previous tournaments—2008 and 2012 respectively, both of which were won by Equatorial Guinea. By contrast, the South African team must be ruing its poor luck, having now qualified for five finals (1995, 2000, 2008, 2012, 2018) and lost all.
For any team in any sport of whatever gender, this is a truly amazing achievement, and we join the rest of the country in congratulating the Thomas Dennerby-led team. In the same spirit, we applaud the contributions of Alhaji Aliko Dangote and Alhaji Abdulsamad Rabiu, both of whom have announced monetary donations to the team. Amaju Pinnick, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) president, has also hinted at additional rewards from President Muhammadu Buhari. No doubt, the players deserve all the plaudits they have received, and the financial rewards on the way.
Victory in Ghana guarantees Nigeria an automatic spot in the 2019 edition of the FIFA Women’s World, hosted by France. Contra its absolute command of the game on the continent (in 20 years, the Super Falcons have lost a grand total of five games to African opposition), the team’s World Cup record is painfully dismal. Although it has participated in every tournament since 1991, it has managed to finish in the top eight just once. A Goliath on the continent, the Super Falcons are currently midgets outside Africa.
What this means is that, inasmuch as the team deserves kudos for its continental supremacy, it is time it raised its game. Starting immediately, the NFF must devote adequate time and resources to creating the right environment for the next generation of female players to flourish. And in order to do that, it must, among other things, pay more attention to the local league. It must not allow the grass to grow under the feet of the Super Falcons.
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