Cameroon have won the right to join South Africa as African representatives at the Women's Olympic Football Tournament in London next year after the Indomitable Lionesses beat favoured Nigeria on penalties over the weekend.
Behind 2-1 from the first leg in Abuja at the end of August, the Cameroonians won by the reverse result in the second leg to level the aggregate score at 3-3, and they then held their nerve in the shoot-out at the Amadou Ahidjo Stadium in Yaounde. South Africa’s Banyana Banyana had already booked their passage last month after breezing past Ethiopia 4-1 on aggregate.
Clawing their way forward
Nigeria have long been the dominant women’s side on the continent with Ghana and South Africa traditionally chasing, but Equatorial Guinea and now Cameroon have made great strides to close the lead held by the Super Falcons. Just last year, the Lionesses were humbled 5-1 by eventual champions Nigeria in the semi-finals of the Women's Football Championship in qualifying for the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup™. But Cameroon won the All Africa Games gold medal in Mozambique last month, defeating Banyana Banyana and Ghana in the knockout rounds, and now they can boast of a first-ever win over their heavily favoured neighbours, who had been the only women’s side to ever represent Africa at the Olympic finals previously.
Going into Saturday’s contest, Nigeria coach Uche Eucharia was feeling pressure to lift the nation’s spirits after the men’s team recently failed to qualify for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, and Enyimba were eliminated in the semi-finals of the CAF Champions League. However, the former international said her side were confident of winning or at least avoiding defeat and thus keeping alive their run of four Olympic tournaments on the trot. But the bad run continues for Africa’s most populous nation as London 2012 will be the first major women's international event without Nigeria.
Things started off well for the hosts and Francine Zouga Edoa opened the scoring near the half hour mark with a quality individual strike. Christine Manie continued the good news for home supporters just ahead of half-time by converting a penalty kick after Osinachi Ohale was sent off. However, the Super Falcons continued to fight, and they were rewarded for their resilience with two-time African player of the year Perpetua Nkwocha bringing the tie even with just over ten minutes remaining. Buoyed by their veteran spine of players, the Falcons pushed for the winner through the 30 minutes of extra time but ended up settling for the vagaries of the penalty shoot-out.
Goalkeeper Precious Dede seemed to give the visitors the edge when she saved the third Cameroonian chance, but Gloria Iroka failed to consolidate the advantage and Faith Ikidi missed her kick to the delight of the green, red and yellow-clad team and supporters. Before the match, Cameroon coach Enow Ngachu said that the contest would be mostly a “psychological test” for his team, so he was delighted to see his side stand up to predictions and the weight of history to reach their first international event. “It was not easy for us to qualify even when they were reduced to ten,” said Ngachu. “But the result is there. We qualified, and I am proud of my daughters.”
The scorer of the first goal Zouga Edoa said the team was thrilled. “Our joy is immense,” she admitted. “What gives us the most pleasure is that we achieved this against Nigeria, who have stopped us from reaching the last World Cup final. Today is our turn.”
South Africa already booked
Banyana Banyana did just about enough to reach London 2012 back in August when they beat surprise packages Ethiopia 3-0 in Johannesburg behind a hat-trick from former African Women's Footballer of the Year Noko Matlou. In the second leg in Addis Ababa, the visitors, who had already sent most of their first choice players to the All Africa Games, killed off any chance for the underdogs with a goal near half-time before Tobyin Mesfin Tameru earned some consolation for Ethiopia with a late goal. Nevertheless, it was a successful run for the Ethiopians, who knocked Ghana out in the previous round. London 2012 will also be South Africa’s first appearance at a major international women’s tournament.