Co-captain of the victorious Super Falcons team to the 2018 Women African Cup of Nations, Rita Chikwelu and Falcons midfielder Ngozi Okobi have attributed the team’s title triumph to experience and a fighting spirit.
The Falcons won a record-extending ninth continental title and a third in a row by defeating Banyana Banyana 4-3 on penalties in the final at the Accra Sports Stadium and Chikwelu says Nigeria was able to negate South Africa’s youthful athleticism by employing an intelligent on-field approach borne of years of experience competing at the highest level on the continent.
“I would say it is experience,” Chikwelu says about how the Falcons were able to come out on top in the final.
“We know that South Africa have a young team, very agile [and] we have some old players. We worked with experience; we didn’t want to go all out to run a lot. Everything is experience.”
Okobi adds: “You saw us fighting; we fought because we couldn’t leave Ghana without the trophy. It’s our birthright.”
Chikwelu agrees, saying that the team had to “work hard” after the “wake up call” that was the group stage loss to Banyana Banyana in the Falcons’ first game at the tournament. The Kristianstad DFF of Sweden midfielder says the present crop of Falcons were mindful of their predecessors pedigree in the AWCON and didn’t “want to miss the history in our own time”.
One bit of history this set of players would be hoping to change is Nigeria’s record in the FIFA Women’s World Cup. Nigeria is one of just seven countries and the only African country to have qualified for every edition of the FIFA Women’s World Cup since 1991 but they have only ever made it past the group stage once, in 1999. The Sweden based duo of Chikwelu and Okobi believe that this present team is primed to match that 1999 achievement following promises by the president of the Nigeria Football Federation Amaju Pinnick to give the Falcons “a better preparation than the Super Eagles” had in the build-up to the 2018 Men’s World Cup in Russia.
“I think we will do more at the World Cup than we are doing before,” Chikwelu says, “we have a good coach and I think we will have a lot of friendly games before the World Cup. I think we will do well.”
“Nigerians should expect every good thing because the last meeting we had with the President [Pinnick], he made a lot of promises. He’s going to make it easy for us to have quality friendly matches and try to keep the team together,” adds Okobi who plays for Eskilstuna UTD in Sweden.