Wednesday 30 November 2016, 10:15

Title fight for Nigeria & Cameroon as EURO contenders limber up

As the best young players in the world battle it out for U-20 glory in Papua New Guinea, their senior counterparts have also been involved in some high-quality encounters. rounds up the latest from the women’s international matches taking place across the world. Mouth-watering decider in Africa The most significant games of recent weeks have been taking place in Cameroon, where packed stadiums have been a feature of the 2016 Africa Women’s Cup of Nations. The football on show has justified those impressive attendances, with yesterday’s semi-finals emphasising both the rising standards and narrowing gap between the Mother Continent’s top sides.

Nigeria, the competition’s record seven-time champions, will be there again but only after the tightest of 1-0 victories over South Africa. Striker Desire Oparanozie grabbed the only goal of the game on 54 minutes, crashing home a free-kick after Faith Ikidi had been brought down on the edge of the box by Bambanani Mbane. South Africa were on top for long spells, though, and Mbane came agonisingly close to making amends five minutes from time when her goal-bound shot was cleared off the line by Ikidi.

The Super Falcons can now look forward to reprising the 2014 final after Cameroon saw off Ghana in an equally hard-fought encounter. The hosts, roared on by a capacity crowd at the refurbished Ahmadou Ahidjo stadium in Yaounde, were nonetheless good value for their 1-0 win. Midfielder Raissa Feudjio was Les Lionnes’ match-winner, scrambling home with 19 minutes remaining following a mistake by the Black Queens goalkeeper, Nana Ama Asantewaa.

Cameroon have never won the Women’s Cup of Nations and were beaten 2-0 by Nigeria in the 2014 decider in Namibia. But can home advantage inspire them to make history? All will be revealed in Saturday’s eagerly anticipated final.

Tough tests for EURO hopefuls The past week has also witnessed plenty of intriguing friendly action in Europe, with several of the likely title contenders for next year’s UEFA Women’s European Championship in action. Hosts the Netherlands suffered two narrow defeats, going down 3-2 in Belgium before losing out at home to England last night thanks to a solitary Jodie Taylor goal.

There was also precious little to separate France and Spain when they met last week, with an identical 1-0 scoreline favouring Les Bleues thanks to Eugenie Le Sommer’s 54th-minute effort. Belgium, meanwhile, were unable to follow up that victory over the Dutch, going down 3-1 to a Denmark side for whom Pernille Harder bagged a brace.

As for reigning European champions Germany, they were held to a 1-1 draw at home by Norway in Aalen last night. It was a low-key end to a wonderful 2016 for the Germans, who came from an early goal down – courtesy of Norwegian star Ada Hegerberg – to level through Josephine Henning. However, the most worrying aspect of the evening for coach Steffi Jones was the injury-enforced departure of captain Dzsenifer Marozsan, who left the field in tears.

A fond farewell Away from the EURO warm-ups, there was an emotional encounter in Dublin as Sue Ronan ended her six-year tenure as Republic of Ireland coach with a 2-1 win over Basque Country. Leanne Kiernan’s first international goal and a sublime free-kick from Stephanie Roche allowed Ronan to go out on a high, and the departing coach was thrilled with the send-off she received.

“It was the perfect end really with the perfect performance,” said Ronan. “There was a lot of things going on before the game but the players were focused and delivered a great performance.

“It’s been a great six years. Unfortunately, we couldn’t make it to a finals but I couldn’t have any more from the players over the period. It was a lovely end, I’ve been humbled by the tributes from clubs, supporters and former players from across the country, and I really feel like a lot of progress has been made.”