Desire Oparanozie had a game to forget as the Super Falcons got the defense of their African Women Cup of Nations title to the worst possible start after they fell to a one nil defeat against South Africa in the opening Group B game at the Cape Coast Sports stadium.
Substitute Chrestinah Kgatlana scored a sublime goal in the 85th minute to consign the Falcons to a second-ever loss to Bayana Bayana in nine attempts and give the South Africans a fantastic boost in their quest to win a first-ever AWCON title and qualify for a first ever world cup.
Both managers had gone into this game with varying levels of confidence. While Desiree Ellis of South Africa had sounded confident heading into the game, Falcons coach Thomas Dennerby had betrayed a lack of confidence when he declared in his pre-match conference that he was unsure of his team going into the game and perhaps he had a point.
The Falcons were strangely disjointed in attack, lacked cohesion in midfield and were repeatedly put on the back foot in defense by Bayana Bayana who showed a cohesion and fluidity that bore the hallmark of a team who have played together for a long time under a consistent system.
The Falcons really should have gone ahead in the 32nd minute after Asisat Oshoala who had swapped positions with Francesca Ordega on the right wing, made light work of the South African defense and laid an inviting center for Desire Oparanozie, only for the forward to hit her shot well over the bar when scoring would have been a lot easier. It was a miss that would come back to haunt the team.
Dennerby had made two big decisions ahead of the game – granting a debut to FC Robo striker Rasheedat Ajibade and confirming Rita Chikwelu as his captain for the tournament, and both decisions bore mixed results.
In starting Ajibade, Dennerby had hoped to use her pace and aggression to pressure the defense of Bayana Bayana and while she began brightly, she was poor on the ball and ultimately faded as the game wore on and was substituted for Ngozi Okobi. Chikwelu offered nothing in attack, was lax with her passing and when she picked up a knock in the 80th minute, Dennerby didn’t waste time replacing her with Amarachi Okonkwo.
South Africa looked to exploit the flanks and constantly tried to isolate the 35-year-old Onome Ebi at center back and it was a ploy that greatly flustered the Nigerian defense and although Osinachi Ohale was astounding in defense, when the goal came it was not surprising.
Dennerby said in his post-match conference that he was disappointed the Falcons conceded in exactly the manner they had worked hard not to, the South Africans were clear in their game-plan and when Oparanozie – who had made the difference the last time these teams met in this competition in 2016 – could only head over from an Anam Imo cross in the 78th minute, it seemed only a matter before Bayana Bayana took advantage.
Chrestinah Kgatlana ran on to yet another floated pass over the top of the exposed Falcons defense and produced a finish of such sublime beauty from an acute angle to leave Tochukwu Oluehi befuddled in goal. It was one nil to Bayana Bayana and keeping in line with previous encounters between these teams, it was always likely to end this way. And what a goal it was. The celebration and outpouring of emotion on the South African bench told its own story when the whistle went for full time.
“Our victory was for all South Africa, there is no I, just we”, Ellis said.