• Sports Minister, NFF, Lawmakers In Yaounde To Give Team Support
“We have come this far and I don’t see the Camerounians stopping us from retaining our trophy, which we are going to present as Christmas gift to Nigerians.”
Those were the words of Super Falcons team captain, Rita Chikwelu, yesterday ahead of today’s final of the 10th African Women’s Nations Cup clash between Nigeria and host Cameroun.
The Falcons, who have won the title seven times, are aiming for another historic moment, and Chikwelu says it is a mission possible. Speaking with The Guardian at their Djeuga Palace Hotel base in Yaounde yesterday, the team captain said another victory over the Camerounians is possible. She said they would have to tread with caution, considering the fact that the Lionesses are playing in front of their home crowd.
“If you look at the history of our past matches in recent years, you will agree with me that the two teams have a lot in common,” Chikwelu said. “But we will find a way to overcome them, no matter their home support. I know it won’t be an easy game, but like I said, we will tame them once again.”
If results of past matches are what a team needs to win championship, then the people of Cameroun should forget the title.
The two teams have met 12 times, with Nigeria winning seven of those matches. The Lionesses recorded three famous victories against the Super Falcons. First, in the AWC third-place encounter in 2012, the Lionesses stood between the Falcons and victory at the last All African Games in Congo Brazzaville, as well as the qualifier for the Rio 2016 Olympics in Brazil. Two other fixtures between the two teams ended in draws.
Outside those three defeats, the Falcons have always tamed the Lionesses, including the 2-0 win Nigerian had over Cameroun in the final of the Nations Cup two years ago in Windhoek, Namibia.
The story of the fixtures between the two teams dates back to 1998, when Nigeria hosted the first edition of the championship in Abeokuta and Kaduna. Then, the Lionesses were mere upstarts, with just two international games under their belt. A 3-2 spanking of Banyana Banyana of South Africa before bowing 3-2 to the Black Queens of Ghana.
In the semi final, the Lionesses went down 0-6 to the Florence Omagbemi-led Falcons at the MKO Abiola Stadium, Abeokuta, their biggest defeat in the hands of Nigeria.
South Africa hosted the second edition of the championship in 2000, and again, the Falcons walloped the Lionesses 3-0 with goals from gangling Mercy Akide, Maureen Mmadu and Yusuf Olaitan. Both teams did not meet in the 2002 edition, which Nigeria hosted in Warri and Oghara, as the Lionesses were eliminated during the group stage.
However, in 2004, South Africa hosted the Nations Cup for the second time, and the Lionesses battled the Falcons to a 2-2 draw, despite the fact that Nigeria opened score early in the game through Perpetua Nkwocha in the ninth minute, and Vera Okolo later in the game. That was in the group stage.
Both teams qualified for the final, but this time, the Falcons were ruthless, beating the Lionesses 5-0 with Nkwocha, who is now an assistant coach of the Super Falcons, accounting for four goals, as Okolo scored one to give Nigeria her third title.
Nigeria hosted the 2006 edition of the championship again in Delta State, where the two teams renewed their rivalry. Like they did in 2004 in South Africa, the Falcons led by late coach Effong Ntiero overpowered the Lionesses 5-0 in the semifinal, with Cynthia Uwak opening the floodgate of goals in the 33rd minute before Nkwocha netted a treble. Effioanwan Ekpo’s strike sealed victory for the Falcons.
The Falcons led by former striker, Uche Eucharia, lost in the semifinal to host, Equatorial Guinea, in the 2008 edition of the championship. It was the first time Nigeria missed out of a place in the final. Their opponent in the third place match was the Lionesses of Cameroun, who had grown in confidence.
In a hot afternoon at the Estadio Internacional in Malabo, Maureen Eke, now a coach, gave Nigeria the lead before Onguene Aboudi forced the game into extra time with a classy finish. After 120 minutes stood at 1-1, Falcons edged past the Lionesses 4-3 on penalties.
Nigeria thumped Cameroun 5-1 at the Sinaba Stadium, Daveyton, South Africa in 2010 with the Lionesses’ nemesis, Nkwocha, bagging another treble while Helen Ukaonu and Desire Oparanozie completed the rout.
In the group stage of the 2012 edition of the championship, the Falcons won 2-1, with strikes from Nkwocha and Onyinyechi Ohadugha erasing Patience Manie’s penalty goal for the Lionesses.
And after a failed bid by both teams to make the final, the Falcons and the Lionesses fought for the third place match, but the Nigerians put in an unconvincing performance in the history of the meetings between the two teams and got punished by danger woman, Gaelle Enganamouit, who struck in the 31st minute. That was their first victory over the Falcons.
However, the Falcons, under former coach Edwin Okon, avenged the defeat two ago in the final of the ninth edition of the championship in Namibia, where Nigeria won her seventh title. It ended 2-0 against the Lionesses at the Sam Nujoma Stadium in Windhoek, with Desire Oparanozie opening scoring with a free kick before Asisat Oshoala sealed the victory with the second goal.
The Lionesses stopped Nigeria during the All African Games in Congo Brazzaville last year, and the Falcons could not also qualify for the Rio Olympics.
In all, Perpetua Nkwocha scored 12 goals in nine matches against the Lionesses, including three hat-tricks, before she retired and later became a coach.
Nkwocha will not be on the field as a player this afternoon, but in her absence, the Falcons said victory against the Lionesses is sure.
Coach Florence Omagbemi, her three assistants, including Ann Chiejine and Nkwocha have equally vowed not to allow the trophy remain in Cameroun.
The team is banking on the likes of Oshoala, Okparanozie, Ngozi Okobi, Faith Ikidi, Onome Ebi, Francisca Ordega, Ugo Njoku, Wogu Success, Ngozi Ebere, Ijeoma Obi, Easter Sunday and goalkeeper Alaba Jonathan to do the damage against the Lionesses in front of the their home fans this afternoon.
Meanwhile, Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung, some National Assembly officials, as well as unspecified number of NFF top members are expected to be in Yaounde to cheer the Falcons to victory today.