Echoes from the past, as Falcons, Black Queens clash in Cameroun

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Super Falcons’ star, Asisat Oshoala (right) skips past Mali’s goalkeeper, Goundo Samake, to score one of his four goals in Nigeria’s 6-0 demolition of their West African neighbours… on Sunday. PHOTO: CAF.

AWCON

The Super Falcons will have their hands full this afternoon when they confront the Black Queens of Ghana in their second group match in the on-going African Women Nations Cup holding in Cameroun. This potential energy-sapping encounter is billed for the hilltop Omisports Stadium, in Limbe, a tourist destination here in Cameroun.

Matches between the two teams have always been explosive and tension soaked, mainly due to rivalry existing between the two countries in the round leather game.

Both teams won their opening group game on Sunday and a victory for the Falcons today will guarantee Nigeria a place in the semifinal. Though, head coach of the Super Falcons, Florence Omagbemi says the focus is not the rivalry that existed between the two countries in the past, but to win their matches as they come, many followers of women football in Africa see today’s game from different angle.

Since the beginning of the African Women Nations Cup in 1998, the Falcons have always had the upper hand against the Black Queens. The Nigerian team then captained by Omagbemi with top strikers as Uche Eucharia, Mercy Akide and Perpetua Nkwocha, dominated the Black Queens till the 2006 edition of the championship.

The Falcons defeated Black Queens in the final to win the maiden edition in Abeokuta in 1998. The Nigerians went on to punish the Ghanaians in the final at 2002 edition hosted in Warri and Oghara, Delta State.

The Super Falcons met with the Black Queens in the final match of the Fifth African Women Championship at the Warri Township Stadium also in Warri, Delta State in 2006 and won.

That encounter in 2006, where late Coach Effiong Ntiero led the Falcons was the third time in five tournaments that the two countries battled for the championship trophy. Two other teams, the Banyana Banyana of South Africa and the Lionesses of Cameroon had chanced the Ghanaians to come in as runners-up in 2000 and 2004.

Today’s encounter is to guarantee one a ticket in the semifinals and players and officials of the Black Queens are saying it is their turn to make a meal of the Falcons.

Some of the Ghanaian players, who spoke with The Guardian shortly after over coming Kenya in their first group match on Sunday, said that this Super Falcons team is beatable.

One of the players pointed out: “I can’t see that goalkeeper (referring to Precious Dede) in the Nigerian team. We will show them on Wednesday.”The player has her reason.

One of the greatest contests between the two counties occurred in 2004 during the qualifiers for Athens Olympics Games. Then, the Super Eagles of Nigeria had just lost on penalty to host nations, Tunisia, in the 2004 Africa Cup of Nations.

Few days later, the Falcons traveled to Accra for their return leg fixture of the Athens 2004 Olympics qualifiers against the Black Queens. The first leg in Nigeria had ended 1-1 at the Liberty Stadium, Ibadan. Not ready to follow the footsteps of their male counterparts in mourning, the Falcons stormed Accra ready for anything.

The Ghanaians were also ready. Top striker, Nkechi Egbe, who scored the only goal for Nigeria in Ibadan struck first in Accra and the Ghanaians responded shortly after. It ended 1-1 and they needed to settle scores on penalty to decide who progressed in the qualifiers.

In goal for the Falcons then was Precious Dede, while the Ghanaians relied on ever-boastful Memunatu Sulemana. Nigeria took the first kick through Ajuamai Ameh and the Ghanaian keeper stopped it. They scored their kick. Nigeria’s second kick was taken by Vera Okolo and again, the Ghanaian keeper stopped it. They scored again to have a 2-0 advantage. From there, Dede came into the party. She stopped the third kick by the Ghanaians, while Nkechi Egbe scored for Nigeria. It was 2-1. Dede again stopped their fourth kick, while Perpetua Nkwocha netted her own to bring score to 2-2. At that point, the Accra Stadium, which was parked full, became silent. Ghana’s most experienced player and first team captain, who was then plying her soccer trade in the United States, Albarty Sackey stood up for their last kick and again, Dede provided an answer. Nigeria’s former defender, Yinka Kudaisi took a powerful one, which sealed into the net for the Falcons to carry the day. It was the closest the Ghanaians had come in snatching a continental ticket from the Falcons, but failed.

The stage is set once again and the Ghanaians are beating war drum. To Super Falcons coach however, today’s second group match in Cameroun is not about past rivalry.

“We will take the Ghanaians the same way we treated Mali. I hear their coach is talking about the rivalry between the two countries, but we are not seeing it from that angle. We just want to beat them and move on.Whoever wins today’s game may be guaranteed the top position in the group and may avoid the host country, Lionesses of Cameroon in the semifinals.

All eyes will be on Arsenal Ladies and Emzor Brand Ambassador, Asisat Lamina Oshoala to increase her tally having scored four against Mali to lead the scorers’ cart. Desire Oparanozie is still battling fitness and may not be available for the Super Falcons today. But there are reliable players such as Francisca Ordega, who scored Falcons first goal against the Malians on Sunday. Goalkeeper Alaba Jonathan is in top form, same for the likes of Oneme Ebi, Rita Chikwuelu, Esther Sunday and Ijeoma Obi.

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