Monday, June 14, 2021

How African women teams can conquer at FIFA World Cup, by Omagbemi


tiamin rice

Super Falcons’ players training ahead of their final match against the Lionesses of Cameroon during the 10th African Women’s Nations, Cameroon 2016.

To Super Falcons chief coach, Florence Omagbemi, there is one missing link between African women football and the rest of the world, which the Confederation of African Football (CAF) must fix as quickly as possible.

“Winning the Nations Cup title a record eight time is not a joke, but we should be looking beyond Africa now,” Omagbemi said in a chat with The Guardian shortly before she jetted out to her base in the United States of America during the week.

“I pleaded with CAF even before our final match against the Lionesses of Cameroon that the women need more opportunity to compete in more competitions in the continent and not just the Nations Cup. CAF should come up with competitions like the CAF Champions League and CAF Confederations Cup for the women the same way they organize for the men,” she said.

Omagbemi equaled records earlier this month in Yaoundé, Cameroon, by becoming the second African to win the Nations Cup trophy and a player and coach. Though she appreciated her achievement at the 10th African Nations Cup, where the Falcons caged the Lionesses of Cameroon in front of their home crowd, but the former defender wants CAF to improve more on women football.

For 16 years, Omagbemi was one of the amazons who shouldered Nigeria’s quest for glory in both CAF and FIFA Women’s championships.

From the inaugural edition of the World Cup in China ’91, to Sweden ’95, USA ’99 and USA 2003, Omagbemi was in the defence, providing cover for goalkeeper Ann Chijine against oppositions.

Omagbemi and her ‘golden’ generation of the Super Falcons reached the second round of the FIFA World Cup at USA ’99, where Nigeria narrowly lost the semifinal ticket to Brazil. Before then (1998), she led the Falcons to capture the maiden African Women Championship (AWC) title in Abeokuta. She also won it in 2000 and 2002, just as she led the team to two Olympic Games appearances at Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004.

However, Omagbemi feels something is missing in African women football. “I am saying this because women lifetime in the game is different from the men. Having played Nations Cup two years, we are looking at four years time for the Women’s World Cup. It will pay us more if CAF can engage the ladies more in and out by trying to organize more competitions for them. In doing so, we will see everyone around and possibly know the weakness and strength of the various teams before for the World Cup.

“We don’t want to play the Nations in two years, and the next two years we are not going to see most of these girls anymore. It is not only for Nigeria, but for Cameroon, Kenya, Ghana, South Africa and all other countries who will want more competitions to prepare them for the world stage.”

In 2012, Omagbemi was part of the Nigerian U-20 Women team’s technical crew that got to the semifinal in Japan. She worked with former Falcons coach, Edwin Okon in Japan.

Omagbemi’s profile has been on the rise since then, especially at global level. That same year, FIFA listed Omagbemi as a member of Women’s U-17 World Cup organizing committee held in Azerbaijan. She was also a member of the FIFA Women’s U-17 World Cup organizing committee at Costa Rica in 2014.

In 2015, Omagbemi was elevated to the senior rank, as she was listed as a member of FIFA’s Technical Study Group (TSG) for Canada 2015 Women’s World Cup. She was named coach of the Super Falcons in March this year, and she did not disappoint, leading the team to clinch the Nations Cup title for the eight time.

Omagbemi is the second ex-Falcons player to handle the women senior team. The first was ex-striker, Uche Eucharia, but she failed with the team, as she could not qualify the girls for the All Africa Games in Maputo and the 2012 Olympics in London. Eucharia could not also take the team beyond the group stage at Germany 2011 World Cup.

She is of the opinion that African teams will do better at the World Cup, if CAF provides more competitions for clubs and national sides.

“If we want to compare our standard of play with the European teams, it is not all about the Nations Cup. Teams that participate at the Nations Cup will have a good level of performance with all other teams. Now that the Nations Cup is over, what is next for women football in Africa.?

“I’m speaking out on behalf of Nigeria and other African teams. Throughout the Nations Cup competition in Cameroon, all the time, we hear different stories about how different federation are struggling for support to get their teams ready in women football.

“Now we are done with the Nations Cup. We want to focus again and see how we can prepare these teams for a World cup stage.

If we have more competitions for women in Africa, a club like Rivers Angels of Port Harcourt, Bayelsa Queens, Delta Queens, Sunshine Queens, Pelican Stars or Nasarawa Queens can compete with clubs in South Africa, Ghana or Cameroon every year. It will go a long way in helping women football in our continent. The more competitions we have against ourselves the better for us,” Omagbemi stated.

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