As the Super Falcons of Nigeria get set to battle Central African foes the Indomitable Lionesses of Cameroon for a place in the final and a berth at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France, Falcons’ co-captains Onome Ebi and Rita Chikwelu both say Tuesday’s semi-final in the ongoing 2018 Women Africa Cup of Nations in Ghana, will be tough for Nigeria.
Defending champions Nigeria maintained their enviable record of always making the semi-finals of the AWCON after they defeated Equatorial Guinea six-nil in their final group match on Saturday, 24 November and would be looking to win a ninth title and a third in succession. Cameroon, on the other hand, would be looking to make consecutive final appearances after qualifying tops in a group that had Mali, hosts Ghana and Algeria.
The semi-final at the Accra Sports Stadium will be a rematch of the 2016 final in Yaoundé, Cameroon, which the Falcons narrowly won by a lone goal scored by Desire Oparanozie in the 86th minute and Ebi who featured in that encounter says the Falcons expect another tough but victorious battle when the teams face-off again on Tuesday, 27 November.
“All my players and even Nigerians know that Cameroon is a very tough team,” she said, “we are expecting to have a very tough game but with our preparation and hard work I believe the game is going to be ours.”
Coach Thomas Dennerby has introduced an intriguing dynamic to the team by alternating the captain’s armband between Ebi and Chikwelu with the latter captaining the team against Zambia, the former is in line to wear the armband against the Indomitable Lionesses and she says that while the team’s focus hasn’t been on Cameroon having adopted a one game at a time approach, she knows the Falcons are up to the challenge of facing an Indomitable Lionesses team she expects to be better than the 2016 team they faced in the final.
“I won’t say I’m focused on [Cameroon] because when we were playing our group stage we [didn’t] have to play them, so I was only focused on the people that we were going to play but now that we are playing Cameroon I think they are a little bit better than what they were before and same as our team Nigeria I know we are going to get a very tough fight so we are ready for it,” the 35-year old Hekan Hulsanhang of China defender said.
The Falcons decimated Equatorial Guinea six-nil in their last group match and having scored and assisted a goal in that match, Chikwelu appears to be hitting top form at just the right time for the Falcons having had a difficult match against South Africa in the opener where she went off injured.
The 30-year old Krstianstand FF of Sweden midfielder who says she is “so happy” to have scored her first goal of the tournament, echoed Ebi’s thoughts on what awaits the Falcons in the semi-final.
“Everybody knows it’s not going to be an easy game against Cameroon,” Chikwelu said, “we [expected] to play Cameroon or Ghana and now we have Cameroon in the semi-final and we are going to give all we have to see that we qualify for the final.”
With the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) having settled all outstanding bonuses and allowances owed the team – and making sure it is well publicised – Chikwelu says the “girls are happy” that the Federation “has provided for us all we asked from them” and the Falcons “will be also doing our best to see that all Nigerians are happy and the NFF are happy also”.