Nigeria reached the finals of this year’s Women Africa Cup of Nations Championship after the Super Falcons held out bravely to defeat hosts Lady Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire 1-0 in Abidjan on Wednesday evening. The scoreline meant an aggregate 3-0 win for the nine-time African champions.
The Ivorians threw everything into the return leg encounter at the Stade Robert Champroux but met a steely Nigerian defence and an inspired goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie who would not give an inch.
The game flowed back and forth for large swathes of the first half. Coach Randy Waldrum made two changes to the starting line-up from the first leg, bringing in midfielder Regina Otu and forward Francisca Ordega.
The lively Ordega thought she had given Nigeria the lead halfway into the first period, but the Nigerien referee ruled it out.
In the 34th minute, Nigerien referee Zouwaira Souley awarded a penalty to the homers after judging that Ashleigh Plumptre had tripped an Ivorian striker in the Nigerian area. Goalkeeper Nnadozie saved the shot, and the contact from the same player off the rebound went into the side-netting.
The Super Falcons dug their feet into the ground in the second half, refusing to give the Lady Elephants any leeway. Plumptre, Captain Onome Ebi, Osinachi Ohale and Michelle Alozie all held their ground as the Elephants increased their onslaughts.
A minute to the end, Esther Okoronkwo, winning only her second cap for Nigeria, scored the back-breaker that confirmed a 3-0 aggregate win for the Super Falcons.
Victory and qualification for Morocco 2022 was sweet revenge over the Lady Elephants, who bumped the Falcons on the road to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
The celebration that greeted the qualification of the Nigeria national women’s team for the 2022 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations in Morocco turned sour when the team arrived in Nigeria on Wednesday night.
In a now-viral video, officials and players of the Super Falcons claimed to be held “hostage” at the Nnamdi Azikwe Stadium, Abuja, on arrival from Abidjan at about midnight.
Super Falcons players and officials after arriving in Nigeria at 12 midnight, were delayed for over three hours at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, Abuja on issues of COVID-19 clearance as the airport officials demanded bribes to clear the team that had already taken the mandatory Covid test to return home after the victory against Cote d’Ivoire one of the officials stated. The Super Falcons coach Randy Waldrum could not hide his anger either as he described the whole situation as frustrating and complete ‘nonsense’.
Meanwhile. the Nigeria Football Federation has described as ‘unfortunate’ the incident that saw players and officials of the Senior Women National Team, Super Falcons delayed for over three hours at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja on arrival from Abidjan on Thursday morning.
In a press release made available to Newsmen by Director of Communications, Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) Ademola Olajire, NFF General Secretary, Dr Mohammed Sanusi, said: “It was an unfortunate incident because we had our protocol officers on the ground at the airport and they did the needful before the team arrived. We are a responsible organization and the various National Teams have been going out and returning to Nigeria since these covid19 protocols, procedures and guidelines started. We have never been caught napping”.
“The issue had to do with covid19 protocols and we had no control over how things would be approached by the officials in charge at the airport each time. In this particular case, we fulfilled our part of the requirements. However, some other group of individuals arrived at the same time as the Super Falcons’ contingent and were bent on circumventing the process, and this compelled the health officials to adopt stern measures and even lock up some of their offices”.
“It was beyond us, but we have already apologized to our players and officials over this incident”.
President of the Nigeria Football Federation and FIFA Council Member, Mr Amaju Melvin Pinnick on Thursday applauded the gutsy play and general display of the “Nigeria spirit” of the Super Falcons in Abidjan on Wednesday evening which earned Nigeria a spot at this year’s Women Africa Cup of Nations finals.