Nigeria’s opening match at the 2018 Africa Women Cup of Nations against South Africa will be “tough” but the Super Falcons will “come out with the three points” according to Falcons captain Rita Chikwelu.
The Super Falcons go into the 2018 AWCON in Ghana as overwhelming favourites for a record-extending ninth championship triumph but must first navigate through Bayana Bayana of South Africa, Shepolopolo of Zambia and the Harambee Starlets of Kenya in the group stage. While the Zambians and Kenyans are unlikely to cause the Falcons plenty of troubles, the same can’t be said of Bayana Bayana who will most likely provide the Falcons with the most gruelling challenge in the entire tournament.
Both sides have developed an intense rivalry over the years and have faced off in each of the last five AWCONs – often in acrimonious circumstances – dating back to 2008. Of the eight times they’ve met in all competitions, the Falcons have won five times, losing just once – in the semi-final of the 2012 AWCON in Equatorial Guinea – but none of the matches between these two sides have been decided by more than a goal. Bayana Bayana has always proven a complicated and thorny puzzle for the Falcons and the match on 18 November at the Cape Coast stadium will surely continue in that wise.
With just two weeks to the start of the tournament, the Falcons can’t be said to be having an ideal build-up and are yet to play a friendly of note save for a run out against an Under-16 amateur boys team which they lost. In fact, they have only played six matches in 2018 and none since the six-nil hammering of Gambia in June. South Africa, on the other hand, seem to be making very conscious efforts to assume the mantle of the best female team on the continent. This calendar year alone, they’ve participated in two different tournaments, played fourteen games and will take on the Black Queens of Ghana in a friendly on 11 November ahead of the tournament.
Notwithstanding all that, Chikwelu who plies her trade for Kristianstads DFF in the Swedish top-flight says the Falcons will come out tops in what she predicts will be a difficult encounter.
“Of course it’s going to be a tough game, one of the tough games we will have in the tournament,” the 30-year old midfielder told busybuddiesng.com.
“It is always like that when we play South Africa we always find it difficult to win them, but at the end of the game, we are going to come out with the three points. That’s the most important thing.”
The Falcons might have had a less than ideal preparation so far in the build up to the tournament, but Chikwelu who captained the team to victory in the 2016 AWCON in Cameroon says the team’s confidence is undaunted and they are clear as to their mission in Ghana – a successful defence of their title and securing a world cup berth in France.
“We have confidence,” she says. “They say when you believe it and work towards it, it happens. So, we believe that we are going there to defend our title and we are working so hard to defend it and not only defending it but to also qualify for the world cup.”