Tochuckwu Oluehi Super Falcons’ Messiah

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The Super Falcons of Nigeria last Saturday successfully defended the Africa Women Cup of Nations title, winning the tournament for the ninth time. However, the victory did not come on a platter of gold as they had to depend on the heroics of goalkeeper Tochuckwu Oluehi in both the semifinals and finals matches in which she stopped two penalties against Cameroon and South Africa respectively. Little wonder she was voted the best goalkeeper of the competition and also listed in Africa’s best XI

The Super Falcons goalkeeper, Tochuckwu Oluehi, was the hero in the semifinals of the Africa Women Cup of Nations against Cameroon and the finals against South Africa as her penalty saves were what counted for the champions when it mattered most.

In an interview after her heroics in the semifinals against Cameroon, Oluehi said she felt “perfect” when playing the superb role in Nigeria’s 4-2 win.

“Even if I didn’t touch the second one but I dived in the right direction, so it’s a thing of joy for me. We practiced it only once but for me, it’s a gift. I know how to save penalties when it comes to that. I know if my players can put the ball in the net, everything will be on me to save the penalties and I did that, so, I am very happy helping my team. The semi-final match against Cameroon was our toughest match since we started this competition, but thank God we won at the end of the day,” she said.

“I feel great but my defenders have been awesome. They’ve been good covering up for me in the sense that that much pressure hasn’t been on my side for me to concede any goal. They’ve been so good in the defence that’s just it.”

The Super Falcons first-choice goalkeeper who after the semi-final with Cameroon had appealed for more support from Nigerians in order to help the squad win the final against South Africa, said she was happy being Nigeria’s hero on the evening in Accra, Ghana, adding that the biggest thing on her mind now was how the Falcons would win their ninth title.

The Rivers Angels of Port Harcourt shot-stopper also expressed delight with the FIFA Women’s World Cup ticket achieved with the win against Cameroon, and said they want to be in France as African champions.

“We want Nigerians to continue to support the team. Once we get total support from the fans, we will not disappoint Nigerians. We want to beat South Africa on Saturday, so that we can go to the World Cup in France as champions of Africa, and make Nigerians glad,” Oluehi had said then.

Before last Saturday’s encounter against the Banyana Banyana, Oluehi said they would tackle the match with the mindset of avenging that painful defeat.

“Meeting South Africa in the final is what we have been praying for because we want to play them again. We want to tell them that winning against us in the group stage was a mistake and it’s not going to happen again. I’m sure we will beat them in the final,” said Oluehi.

“This is what we’ve been praying for. We want to show them that beating us in the group stage was just a mistake. I am happy that we are meeting Bayana Bayana in the finals. It is an opportunity for us to show the world that the first match we lost 1-0 to them in the group stage was due to an error which we have to correct,” she continued.

However, Oluehi’s art at saving spot kicks did not start with the 2018 AWCON in Ghana, followers of the Nigerian Women Premier League (NWPL) must have at one time or the other witnessed a penalty-saving performance from the 31-year-old goalkeeper.

During last year’s AITEO Cup quarter-final between Rivers Angels and Edo Queens, the two teams were inseparable over two legs in the quarter-final games of Nigeria’s Cup competition, having played goalless in  Port Harcourt and Benin respectively, Oluehi then came to her team’s rescue, saving the hosts’ first two spot kicks with the third fired wide. Her team, Rivers Angels won 3-0 on penalties.

In the AITEO Cup final against Ibom Angels, Oluehi also saved two spot-kicks as defending champions Rivers Angels defeated neighbours 3-0 on penalties to win the AITEO Cup in Jos after both teams had fought out a 1-1 draw in regulation time.

Oluehi’s expertise at saving penalties also came to the fore again in the NWFL Champions Shield earlier this year as her two penalty saves ensured that Rivers Angels defeated Nasarawa Amazons 4-3 to ensure her side was crowned champions of the 2018 NWFL Champions Shield.

Proving it against Cameroon and South Africa at Ghana’s AWCON has proved beyond reasonable doubt that stopping penalty kicks by Oluehi is never a fluke but rather an art.

It, therefore, came as no surprise that the Super Falcons safe hand was voted the best goalkeeper at AWCON 2018 and is also one of only two Nigerians that made the tournament’s Best XI list.

In 2014, Oluehi as Super Falcons second choice goalkeeper departed Nigeria for the United Arab Emirate (UAE), to sign for Al-Wahda FC of Abu Dhabi, a move the team’s media officer, Gracious Akujobi, believe would be of immense benefit to the Super Falcons as it strives to fortify its goalkeeping position ahead of international engagements.

Meanwhile, the nine-time champions of AWCON will today know their 2019 FIFA Women World Cup opponents with the draw billed to hold in France. Having dominated the African continent, Nigerian football fans are hoping that Super Falcons will put up a good showing in the France 2019 edition.

With all Confederations qualifying series decided, players and coaches are anxiously looking forward to knowing their group opponents and which cities in France they would be playing, when the tournament kicks off in June 2019.

It would be the eighth edition of the FIFA Women World Cup which began in 1991 and Nigeria have made it a birthright to be present in all tournaments. Nigeria posted her best performance so far in the tournament in 1999 reaching the quarter-final before losing to Brazil 4-3.

Meanwhile, the Nigeria Football Federation President Amaju Pinnick has vowed to give the Super Falcons all the deserved attention to ensure they prepare adequately for the FIFA Women World Cup next year in France.

“The NFF will look for the resources to give the team solid preparation. At France 2019, we will make a big impact at the FIFA World Cup and not simply go there to make up the number,” Pinnick promised.