- Gallant Falconets bow out of U-20 World Cup
By Duro Ikhazuagbe
Nigeria’s Super Falcons opened their Women Africa Cup of Nations defence yesterday on a ruthless note, hammering their Malian counterparts 6-0.
2014 African Woman Player of the Year and Most Valuable Player of the last edition of the championship in Namibia, Asisat Oshoala was the star of the Super Falcons. She scored four of the six goals to put Nigeria in perfect control of Group B of the 10th edition of the women AFCON.
USA-based Francisca Ordega started the rout with a smart finish from Ugo Njoku’s run down the Malian defence in the 22nd minute. Before that, Oshoala’s darting run and pass in the 15th minute was fluffed by Uchechi Sunday, who wasted a number of opportunities on the day.
Four minutes after Ordega’s goal, midfielder Halimatu Ayinde came close after a good move but her chip rocked the upright with the Malian goalie beaten. Five minutes before recess, Oshoala read brilliantly a through pass and beat the goalie before slotting into an empty net for her first and Nigeria’s second.
A minute into the second half, Sunday again missed with only the goalie to beat from Faith Ikidi pass, but she made it three from the penalty spot a minute later after Osarenoma Igbinovia was brought down in the box.
Thereafter, it became an ‘Oshoala Show’. The introduction of a clever Chioma Wogu for fumbling Sunday worked well for her. In the 62nd minute, Oshoala latched onto a header by Wogu to outrun a defender and the goalkeeper before smashing into the roof of the net, and six minutes later, benefitted from another Wogu pass to meander past two defenders and slot past the goalkeeper.
Her fourth, and Nigeria’s sixth, came from another brilliant pass, from captain Rita Chikwelu, with 12 minutes left.
The Falcons will certainly meet stronger opposition from Ghana’s Black Queens, whom they play in their next match on Wednesday.
However, it was not a good day for Nigeria’s ladies campaigning in the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Papua New Guinea as the Falconets crashed out of the competition despite defeating Spain 2-1.
Falconets flexed their muscles and fought hard before a capacity crowd at the Papua New Guinea Stadium to earn the victory. The match was played under heavy wind conditions that did not help either of the teams as they struggled in the circumstances.
The joy of victory was short-lived for the Falconets as Japan’s routing of Canada in the other Group B match meant Japan and Spain advanced and Nigeria would go home. The Nigerian delegation will return home on Wednesday, November 23.
Despite the end of the road for the Under-20 ladies, Head Coach of the team, Peter Dedevbo, yesterday evening showered encomiums on the Falconets for winning two out of three matches they played.
For Dedevbo, his girls deserve all the accolades because they proved themselves worthy ambassadors of Africa’s most populous nation.
The 2014 World Cup silver medal-winning Coach noted that the girls gave their best in flying Nigeria and Africa’s flag but it was unfortunate that they were so cruelly eliminated, despite finishing with the same six points as the two other teams (Japan and Spain) that advanced to the last eight.
“Sincerely speaking, you all are stars and I am proud of you. Despite the circumstances, you were not disgraced. We had lofty dreams of making it to the final or even going one better than we took our country in Canada four years ago, but it was not to be. Collectively and individually, we worked towards achieving that goal, but our best could not take us that far,” Dedevbo said.
Stand-in captain and scorer of the winning goal, Chiwendu Ihezuo, wept profusely after Nigeria’s early exit.
Ihezuo, who won the FIFA Live Your Goals Player of the Match award in the win over Spain, couldn’t control her emotions as she broke down at the post match press conference.
The BIIK Zazygurt of Kazakhstan player, with two goals from three games, lamented her inability to actualise her dreams of contesting for the tournament’s golden boot. She was instrumental to Falconets’ presence in Papua New Guinea, scoring seven goals out of the 13 Nigeria recorded during the qualifying series.
“I had high hopes for this tournament. I even set a target of six goals for myself, but my dreams have been blown away like dust in the winds. I admit that our predicament today was as a result of the six goals we conceded against Japan. I kept hoping for a turn-around that would see us progress in the competition.
“I pushed extra hard. The consolation for my much –desired Golden Boot is this award and I am grateful to God for it,” Ihezuo sobbed.