By Tayo Ogunbiyi
After playing out a pulsating 120 minutes goalless draw against the Bayana Bayana of South Africa, Nigerian senior female soccer team, the Super Falcons, successfully defended the title they won in Cameroon, in 2016, at the Ohene Djan Stadium in Accra, Ghana.4-3 on penalties. The fact that this is the second time the South Africans would be losing out in the final to Nigeria made this particular defeat a rather painful one for the girls from the Rainbow nation and their fans.
Asisat Oshoala had a golden opportunity to put the Falcons ahead in the 74th minute when Woman of the Match’ Ordega was fouled by the South African goalkeeper, Kaylin Swart. The Nigerian winger, however, wasted it to the disappointment of numerous Nigerian fans.
The miss, as painful as it was, never really mattered eventually as the Super Falcons eventually edged the illustrious Bayana Bayana team in a nervy penalty shootout. With this latest victory, the Super Falcons have won the coveted Africa Women Nations Cup (AWCON) title for the 12th time, thus becoming the most successful women soccer team in the continent.
It is, however, important to state that the Super Falcons were not really at the best of form throughout the competition. Apart from the match against the whipping ladies of the tournament, Equatorial Guinea, which they trounced by 6-0, the Super Falcons were not really convincing all through the tournament. The team, which had initially lost its opening match 1-0 to the Bayana Bayana, could only manage to beat the Cameroonians via penalty kicks during the semi final.
Considering the fact that the Bayana Bayana successfully held the Falcons for 120 minutes at the final, it could be rightly concluded that the wide gap between them and the rest of Africa is now quite smaller. With their sterling and gallant performances at the recently concluded AWCON in Ghana, it is quite apparent that other African countries such as South Africa, Cameroun, Mali, Ghana and a host of others are, no doubt, waiting in the wing to end the Falcons’ continuous dominance in Africa.
In order to ensure that the Falcons continue to remain the continent’s women soccer super power, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) and other stakeholders need to quickly disregard the current victory and plan ahead for the World championship as well as the next edition of AWCON in Congo. In achieving constant victory in football or any other sporting event for that matter, effective and adequate preparation is quite vital.
While it is true that the Super Falcons are champions of Africa yet again, the last tournament must serve as a warning sign that they are no longer as invincible as they used to be in the continent. The usual Nigerian lackadaisical attitude towards preparation for major sporting tournaments was a key factor in the Falcons not too compelling display in Ghana. Prior to the competition, the team was not given a befitting preparation required for such a highly competitive tournament.
Equally important is the fact that a lot still needs to be done towards improving Women Football in the country. In this regards, there is an urgent need to overhaul the National Women Football League in the country. It is only in doing this that we can be assured of regular discovery of budding female soccer talents across the country. Women soccer talents, no doubt, abound in the country, but there must be a strategic and holistic plan by the appropriate authorities to fully take advantage of this.
It is, thus, imperative that we make renewed efforts to invest in women’s football, especially at the grassroots. All over the world, the bulk of those who take to sports are discovered at the grassroots where sports and entertainments are seen as possible way of escape from the ravaging grip of poverty. Ajegunle, a prominent Lagos masses suburb, is renowned to be a famous breeding ground of potential athletes in the country. A reasonable number of Nigerian most successful sporting stars were discovered in Ajegunle. You can imagine how many Ajegunles exist across the country and how many budding sporting talents in such places are wasting away as a result of lack of exposure.
It is in view of this that the Lagos State government is currently working hard to revive sports at the grassroots across the State. Having observed the lacuna in grassroots sport development, Lagos State Sports Commission has rolled out plans with special focus on School Sports as the driver covering both the primary and secondary schools. Parts of the visions is to fill the gap, drawing from the participation of Lagos active youths and developing a structured and well articulated training contents for different sports in the State.
A complete overhauling of all sporting facilities in the country is also needed. Since it seems those saddled with overseeing the nation’s prime sporting facilities are either overwhelmed with the enormity of the responsibility or lack the needed fund, government can resort to the PPP model. Similarly, the private sector needs to take more active part in the project to restore the nation’s lost glory in sports. All over the world, the initiatives and funds that drive sports come from the private sector. With the needed private sector drive, moribund school sports competitions across the country could be resuscitated.
Perhaps, more importantly, the NFF, in particular, needs to come up with creative strategies that would ensure that all the Falcons are as equally effectively taken care of as the Super Eagles. The pedigree of the Super Falcons as a winning brand should be effectively harnessed to rake up good sponsorship deals for the team. There are so many local and international corporate organisations, especially with gender related products and services that would be willing to leverage on the Falcons success.
All the NFF needs to do is to be better organized, transparent and pro active. Going cup in hands, all the time, to beg for fund each time our national teams are on assignment is, to say the least, unprofessional and demeaning. The NFF must stop it!
On a final note, the Federal Government, corporate bodies and other well meaning individuals should generously appreciate the Super Falcons for their current success. It is heartwarming to note that African number one Billionaire, Alhaji Aliko Dangote and a few others have already donated about N75 million to the victorious Falcons. Others need to join the train. The ladies have done well for our nation. Appreciating them is the least we could do. God bless Nigeria!
Ogunbiyi is of the Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja, Lagos.