Clinical and ruthless in their execution, Nigeria have again claimed Africa’s premium women’s championship for a record eighth time as they beat Equatorial Guinea 4-2 at Sinaba Stadium, east of Johannesburg in South Africa. The Super Falcons were polished and impressive throughout in a competition that they have historically dominated, but Equatorial Guinea were capable opponents in the final, and both teams will grace the FIFA Women’s World Cup next year in Germany.
The Super Falcons travelled to South Africa with sceptics questioning their hunger after they lost out in the semi-finals of the same competition two years ago. However, the west Africans dealt with any level of doubt decisively, winning the crown with both panache and determination. Livewire Nigeria striker Pepertua Nkwocha was the main protagonist for the Eagles throughout the event, and she claimed her 11th goal of the tournament just seven minutes into the final to bring her average strike-rate to just over two goals per match.
In Stella Mbachu, another attack-minded forward for the Falcons, Nkwocha had an ally with whom she formed a deadly combination. The two were a decisive and creative spearhead for a Nigerian side that looks set to send a warning to the world’s best female teams. Along with Nkwocha, Desire Ugochi Oparanozie scored in the final, and Nigeria benefited from two late own goals against their challengers.
For Nzalang Nacional, as the Equatorial Guinea women’s side are known, the loss to the Super Falcons ended the dream of a back-to-back Championships, after they won the trophy on home soil two years ago. Carolina Pereira and Jade Sayo kept the match on edge with two second half goals, but Guinean coach Jean-Paul Mpila admitted that his side were not good enough in the final. “It’s a very sad day for us because we came here to win,” he said. “We were determined to win the final, but that did not happen. Unfortunately, two own goals did not help us, we needed to do better than that.”
Clean sweep for the Falcons
Nigeria were all smiles at the tournament's awards ceremony as they won every honour. Mbachu walked away with the player of the tournament award, a suitable reward for a player who laboured hard to steer Nigeria to greater heights, while Nkwocha took the top scoring award with her exploits in front of goal. Not to be outdone at the other end, Nigeria’s Precious Dede was selected as the goalkeeper of the tournament.
“I think we did well in this tournament. It wasn’t easy for us because we are often targeted by opponents,” Mbachu said after the final. “But I think we have proved once again that Nigeria is a top side in African women’s football. We have showed here that we are still a good team, that we can still go on and win more competitions. Our focus is now on the World Cup next year.”
Third place for the hosts
South Africa, the hosts of the tournament, settled for a bronze medal after beating Cameroon 2-0 in the 3rd/4th-place play-offs on Sunday. It was an improved performance from Banyana Banyana, who have been making gains in women’s football but blew hot and cold in this tournament. Having lost in the final two years ago to Equatorial Guinea, much was expected of the side on home soil. However, they failed to gain revenge on the Nzalang Nacional and fell 3-1 in the rematch in the semi-finals despite outplaying their rivals for stretches.
Tanzania might have been eliminated in the group stage of the competition, but they certainly left an impression as skilful and stubborn opponents in their debut tournament. They lost their first match 2-1 to South Africa, but the contest was settled only via a penalty kick in the dying minutes as the Twiga Stars showed themselves relentless in absorbing the pressure exerted by their more decorated and experienced opponents. They then lost to Mali by just a single goal before running out of steam against Nigeria 3-0. After, Nigeria coach Eucharia Ngozi Uche praised the Tanzanians for their development. “They were one of the trickiest sides we played against. I was impressed by them,” he said.