Reigning African women champions, the Super Falcons, have withdrawn from a 12-nation tournament which kicks off in Turkey this week, citing visa issues.
The Super Falcons were scheduled to lock horns with Group B rivals France, Kosovo and Kazakhstan from February 26 to March 7 as preparation for this year’s Africa Women Cup of Nations qualifiers.
But Falcons who finished third at the regional WAFU Cup on Saturday, have withdrawn from the competition for logistical reasons.
“It was impossible for the team to sort visas and make it to the tournament in Turkey, so they had to pull out,” Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) spokesman Ademola Olajire told BBC Sport.
“They only just finished playing the WAFU Cup on Saturday and had a short time-frame to sort out visas and other important logistics for the trip to Turkey.
“Importantly, attention and preparations will shift towards the big friendly against France in April.”
The news comes as a real setback for the country and newly appointed coach, Swede Thomas Dennerby.
Before his arrival, the Super Falcons had not played or trained since lifting the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations for an eighth time in 2016, when Dennerby’s predecessor Florence Omagbemi became the first woman to win the competition as both player and coach.
The lack of action prompted criticism from strikers Desire Oparanozie and Asisat Oshoala – the latter surprisingly named African Women’s Player of the Year last month despite Nigeria not playing a single game in 2017.
Her performances for her new Chinese club, Dalian Quanjian, saw her triumph ahead of Chrestina Kgatlana and Gabrielle Onguene.
However, Dennerby’s first challenge ended in disappointment at the West African championship, the WAFU Women’s Cup, after they lost to bitter rivals Ghana in the semi-finals.
The team will now travel to Europe to play France in a friendly in April, after which the focus will be on securing a qualifying spot at the 2018 Africa Women Cup of Nations in Ghana.
This year’s Women’s Nations Cup takes on extra significance as it will also decide the continent’s teams for the 2019 Women’s World Cup.
Nigeria is the only African team to have played in all of the Women’s seven World Cup tournaments since 1991 but they have failed to translate their continental dominance on the world stage.
Their best performance came when reaching the quarter-finals in 1999.