One surprise absentee from the list of teams who have qualified for the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament London 2012 is Nigeria. The only side to have represented Africa at the competition to date, the Super Falcons made three consecutive appearances since the inaugural women’s tournament at Atlanta 1996 (where there was no CAF representative) and have also been present and correct at all six FIFA Women’s Cup finals.
The main reason for their absence from London this summer is down to the emergence of a potential new African superpower in Cameroon, who knocked out the Nigerians and will be making their debut in an international tournament against Brazil in Cardiff on 25 July.
“We have a young team with a lot of spirit, and that is our strength,” said Indomitable Lions coach Enow Ngachu in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com. “I’m very proud to be coaching this group and to have the chance to make our debut outside Africa.”
The task awaiting the Cameroonians in Group E is by no means easy. After their awkward proposition against the Brazilians, they will then face hosts Great Britain and New Zealand.
“Our objective is to gain experience and improve with every game,” added Ngachu. “We might be springing a surprise or two in the future, though.”
Cameroon have already caused one upset in blocking Nigeria’s path to London. After securing a 2-1 win in Abuja in the first leg of the qualifying play-off last August, they finished off the job with victory by the same scoreline in the return leg at the Amadou Ahidjo Stadium in Yaounde, their coolness from the penalty spot helping them to victory.
“More girls have taken up football thanks to this historic qualification,” explained Ngachu, who was himself a player and a PE teacher before moving into coaching. “Fortunately, we already have several girls-only football academies.
Aware that football is still predominantly a boys’ sport in Cameroon, he added: “The Olympic experience will help us achieve more support for our national championship, which is currently made up of ten teams. I think we’ll manage to attract more girls to the sport and break a cultural taboo, because up to now parents have been reluctant to let them play football.”
Things are gradually changing. As well as seizing the flag as Africa’s representatives at the Olympics, along with fellow qualifiers South Africa, Ngachu and his girls will also be fighting to increase the sport’s popularity in Cameroon.
The immediate task in hand, however, is to prepare hard for London 2012: “We’ll start our preparations in Yaounde on 19 June and then we’ll be travelling to Scotland in early July, where we’ll play three friendlies in the lead-up to the Games,” said the coach, who is banking on getting the support he needs to bring the team together for a thorough and effective build-up.
“I’m full of hope and I believe in my team,” he added, bringing our chat to a close. Given what his motivated side have already achieved, Ngachu’s optimism and belief seem entirely justified.