Nigeria’s senior women team, the Super Falcons led by Onome Ebi, deserves commendation for securing a World Cup ticket at the just concluded Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (WAFCON). The team had it tough in Morocco, venue of the tournament and where their match with the hosts broke attendance records with 45,562 spectators, which goes to show how well women’s football has developed on the continent. We hereby charge the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) to prepare the team well especially as there’s need to bridge the gap between the top nations of the world and Nigeria. On record in 17 World Cup matches played since 1999, Nigeria has won only two matches against Canada in 2011 and North Korea in 2019.
We recall that after the semis ouster by Morocco, it was indeed a show of shame as the Falcons boycotted their first training session in Casablanca due to unpaid bonuses and allowances. Happening at a time many thought the country or the federation had gone past issues like this, many stakeholders were stunned that the most successful team in the country’s football history could be subjected to such anguish. Some ignorant people put the blame on the sports ministry, but we make bold to say the federation is responsible for all that concerns national football teams.
The NFF President, Amaju Pinnick, has on many occasions said courtesy of numerous sponsors, the body was 90 per cent selfsufficient. It is, however, curious that the same NFF often blames the ministry over the failure to pay the Falcons. We are also aware the Super Eagles are being owed bonuses and allowances and yet the same cash-strapped NFF took some state FA chairmen and their family members to Morocco all in a suspected bid to woo third term votes for Pinnick in the elections slated for September. Incidentally, a similar allowance boycott happened in 2016 after the team won the trophy for a 10th time in Cameroon.
Following this repeat in Morocco the NFF leadership should bury their heads in shame for their ineptitude. No doubt, Nigeria’s women national team, the Super Falcons, are fast losing their invincibility on the continent. The gap between the Falcons and other top teams has been drastically narrowed while it is also evident that women’s football has developed hugely on the continent. Looking back at the 12th Women’s Africa Nations Cup in Morocco, it was crystal clear that women’s football is developing in Africa. However, on the flip side, ordinarily, teams like Botswana, Burundi, Uganda, Burkina Faso and Togo should not have been in the competition but for the format of the Confederation of Africa Football (CAF) which is all inclusive at regional level and not an open contest.
Nigeria knocked out Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire from the WAFU B zone. These two teams are better than many others that qualified for Morocco 2022. We cannot understand how CAF conceived this idea all in the name of equal development. The place of merit and strength of the teams are nowhere now that the qualifiers are drawn at regional level. Obviously, the West African region has the best women’s national teams and the CAF format has reduced the strength of the region at the continental finals. The impact of foreign coach Randy Waldrum on the Falcons is debatable because he failed to win the title which many other domestic coaches had won.
It was indeed a sad tale as the Falcons lost their very first match to South Africa 2-1 at WAFCON and it was the second straight defeat suffered in competitive ties against the Bayana Bayana team that defeated them 4-2 in Lagos at the Aisha Buhari Cup. The Falcons breezed through their two remaining group games beating Botswana 2-0 and Burundi 4-0. In the quarters, the team again struggled before beating Cameroon 1-0 but in the semis, the host team Morocco edged out Falcons in a tense encounter in which the Nigerian ladies played with nine players for over 50 minutes. Nigeria lost on penalties after Ifeoma Onumonu missed her kick.
The fighting spirit of the Falcons after the two red cards is commendable just as it is important to mention that keeping Gift Monday on the bench for 90 minutes was strange. Waldrum did not include Gift in the original squad until the outcry of stakeholders about the ability of the lass who hit the crossbar during extra time to record the best chance of both sides in 90 minutes. The team fought well as 10-time champions but it must be emphasized that the investment on Waldrum is a waste of money by the NFF because many indigenous handlers can do a better job. We strongly believe Falcons can regain their pride on the continent if the old legs in the team give way to younger players who can run and fight for the ball for 120 minutes if need be. It is not late to start the rebuilding process now and first, NFF should get a Nigerian coach to handle the team. Mercy Akide-Udoh, Florence Omagbemi and a host of others are good enough to take the team to greater heights.