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AWCON : Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia Battle for Semi-Final Spot

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The battle for qualification to the semi-finals of the 2018 Women’s African Cup of Nations moves to Group B after Cameroon and Mali both booked their spots from Group A at the expense of Algeria and hosts Ghana on Friday, 23 November.

Defending champions Nigeria take on two-time continental champions Equatorial Guinea at the Cape Coast Sports Stadium while Zambia trade tackles with regional rivals South Africa in the other group match at the Accra Sports Stadium. Both games will be played simultaneously on Saturday, 24 November by 5 pm.

While pointless Equatorial Guinea have little more than pride to play for, they could still scupper the Super Falcons’ bid to make the semi-finals depending on how things pan out in Accra between Zambia and South Africa. Group leaders South Africa require just a point to win the group and seal a semi-final spot. Nigeria will make the semis if they defeat Equatorial Guinea and Zambia fails to win against South Africa.

Zambia can also qualify to the semi-final by beating South Africa and hoping that Equatorial Guinea doesn’t lose to Nigeria. All three teams could conceivably finish on six points in which case their head-to-head records will serve as the tiebreaker.

Zambia and Nigeria could also lose on Saturday and finish on three points alongside Equatorial Guinea in which case the head-to-head record between them would decide who joins South Africa in the semi-final. In any event, the possibilities in the group will make for gripping viewing when the teams file out on Saturday.

For Thomas Dennerby and the Super Falcons, regardless of what happens in the other match only a victory against an Equatorial Guinea side that have lost both group games and conceded twelve goals in the process would do.

The Falcons would, however, need to be much more clinical than they were against Zambia where even though they scored four times, they missed numerous opportunities to make the scoreline more emphatic with Asisat Oshoala in particular guilty of a string of shocking misses.

This would be the sixth meeting between the Falcons and the Nzalang Nacional and the first at this tournament since Nigeria defeated them 4 – 2 in the final of the 2010 edition held in South Africa.

Desire Oparanozie was on the scoresheet that day and she would be facing a familiar foe in Genevova Anonman Nze, captain of the team and scorer of the lone goal when Equatorial Guinea beat Nigeria to win the first of two AWCON titles in 2008. Nigeria holds a 3 – 2 head-to-head advantage over the Nzalang Nacional who are the only other side to have won this tournament apart from the Falcons.

Thomas Dennerby has yet to name the same starting eleven in both group matches and is set to name another changed side with Josephine Chukwunonye coming in at right back for the concussed Faith Ikidi-Micheal, Ngozi Okobi should retain her place after turning in a stellar performance against Zambia. The only other change will see Rita Chikwelu take her turn at the captaincy after Onome Ebi wore the armband against Zambia.

Jean-Paul Mpila made three changes to his team the last time out but it wasn’t enough to prevent his side from receiving a hammering from South Africa. Jacky Annette Messomo is doubtful after missing the last game through injury and Genevova Anonman Nze could be making her last appearance at an AWCON following reports that she is set to retire after this tournament.

Speaking to the media ahead of the game, Thomas Dennerby said he had no plans to change his approach ahead of the match adding that the Falcons “will try to secure our position as one of the two teams in Group B that will qualify for the semi-final”. The Swede also said he believes the Falcons will get better the further they go in the tournament and that he looked forward to the Falcons putting up their best performance so far against the Nzalang Nacional.

“We said already after the first game when we lost against SA that we don’t do any changes that we have trust in what we are doing and we keep on doing it better and better each day.

“We also said after the first game that we probably will improve the team during the tournament and I think that is what is going to happen that we will improve the team and get better and better so I hope we will have our best performance so far tomorrow.”

For Jean-Paul Mpila it has been a sobering experience and he says his focus now is to “secure the future of the team and to bring back the glory of the team” but before that, he plans to bow out fighting.

“Concerning Saturday’s match,” he said, “we are going to play and we will never give up until it is 90 minutes.”

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