Ajibade, Others Jet into Abuja for Mother-of-All Battle with Banyana Banyana

Ajibade, Others Jet into Abuja for Mother-of-All Battle with Banyana Banyana

Captain and chief motivator, Rasheedat Ajibade, are among the early birds as Nigeria’s Super Falcons camp opened yesterday in Abuja for the African final qualifying fixture for this year’s Women’s Olympic Football Tournament against the Banyana Banyana of South Africa.

The two teams, arguably the best women’s football squads on the African continent, are at each other’s jugular for one of the two tickets from Africa for the Paris 2024 Olympics women’s football, with the first leg taking place at the MKO Abiola National Stadium, Abuja on Friday. The return leg is scheduled for the Loftus Versfeld Arena  in Pretoria five days later.

Ajibade, whose savvy, skill and sapience helped the Falcons to the Round of 16 at last year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in Down Under, will be joined in the roost by home-based goalkeeper Linda Jiwuaku and defender Jumoke Alani (drafted in following injury to Saudi Arabia-based Ashleigh Plumptre) as early birds.

Young defender Shukurat Oladipo, veteran goalkeeper Tochukwu Oluehi, Japan-based Chidinma Okeke and Spain-based forward Gift Monday are expected in camp early this morning. The rest of the squad will be in by Tuesday, though USA-based African queen Asisat Oshoala is not expected until Thursday.

South Africa’s delegation, including 24 players, will land in Abuja this  evening.

The Super Falcons are extra-motivated for this fixture, having not beaten the Banyana in regulation time for many years now, and having watched as the South Africans carted away the Women Africa Cup of Nations trophy in Morocco last year after the Banyana edged them 2-1 in a group phase match.

Nine-time African champions Nigeria still call the shots at that level though, with nine of 12 titles contested so far, and with a squad brimming with youth and experience, and the bounce of having been Africa’s best performer at the last World Cup finals – unbeaten in regulation time until their exit via penalty shootout defeat to England.

In 2018 when they won their ninth title, the Banyana were the victims after a penalty shootout at the Accra Sports Stadium.

Both legs of the fixture are of potentially explosive quality.

Nigeria will bank on the bravery of goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie, a rearguard expected to include World Cup stars Osinachi Ohale and Michelle Alozie (and perhaps returnee Chidinma Okeke and newbie Oladipo), a midfield of no-nonsense duo of Halimatu Ayinde and Christy Ucheibe (spiced with the nifty Ajibade and the sticky Deborah Abiodun) and a fore-line of Esther Okoronkwo and Uchenna Kanu (with Gift Monday, Omorinsola Babajide and returnee Chiwendu Ihezuo also available).  


Goalkeepers: Chiamaka Nnadozie (Paris FC); Tochukwu Oluehi (Shualat Alsharqia FC, Saudi Arabia); Linda Jiwuaku (Bayelsa Queens)

Defenders: Osinachi Ohale (Pachucha Club de Futbol, Mexico); Jumoke Alani (Edo Queens); Shukurat Oladipo (FC Robo Queens); Michelle Alozie (Houston Dash, USA); Nicole Payne (Portland Thorns FC, USA); Chidinma Okeke (Mynavi Sendai Ladies, Japan) 

Midfielders: Deborah Abiodun (University of Pittsburgh, USA); Halimatu Ayinde (FC Rosengard, Sweden); Christy Ucheibe (SL Benfica, Portugal); Jennifer Echegini (Juventus Ladies, Italy); Rasheedat Ajibade (Atletico Madrid FC, Spain); Toni Payne (Sevilla FC, Spain) 

Forwards: Omorinsola Babajide (Coasta Adeje Tenerife Egatesa, Spain); Esther Okoronkwo (Changchun FC, China); Ifeoma Onumonu (SLC Utah, USA); Asisat Oshoala (Bay FC, USA); Uchenna Kanu (Racing Louisville, USA); Gift Monday (Coasta Adeje Tenerife Egatesa, Spain); Chiwendu Ihezuo (Pachucha Club de Futbol, Mexico)  

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