HT Exclusive – Will ‘Disjointed’ Super Falcons End Nigeria’s 16-Year Olympics Voodoo?

By Victor Kanayo 

There are mounting concerns ahead of the Women African Olympic Football Tournament final qualifying round, first leg between South Africa and Nigeria with the match slated for Friday April 5, 2024, inside the prestigious Moshood Abiola stadium, Abuja.

Heritage Times (HT) highlights that the reason for the increasing anxiety is due to preparation lines between both countries.

Despite being reigning African champions after winning the last Women African Cup of Nations, South Africa appear more composed going into the final decider for the upcoming 2024 Olympic Games schedule for Paris.

Coupled with the fact that since October 2023, the South Africans haven’t lost a game, they will be going into Friday’s game full of confidence after comfortably dispatching Tanzania in the previous round.

Training And Overall Preparation

Handled by experienced coach, Elis, the South African’s long training programme ahead of their clash with Nigeria is what could give them an edge with the Nigerian girls struggling with goalscoring in recent times which saw them manage to dispatch Cameroon that stopped them some 12 years ago.

The South African side mostly known as Banyana Banyana have already arrived Abuja and have been training with almost all their invited players since last weekend.

On the other hand, Nigeria’s Super Falcons have had disjointed preparation plans with the invited players, mostly foreign lads, coming into Abuja one after the other.

The Super Falcons first training only happened on Wednesday, two days to the crucial match, with some players still on their way to camp.

Preparation and other issues have become a baggage, as fears have been triggered over another complete football outage for Nigeria, after the men’s team have were sidelined from the 2024 Olympics after they succumbed to qualifier defeat some months ago.

Unlike the Nigerian women, the men last took part in the Olympics in 2016 when they marched on to win a bronze medal under the tutelage of veteran coach, Samson Siasia.

Incidentally, that was the only medal Nigeria had throughout the Olympics outing that year.

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With only two teams representing the continent at the Women’s Football Event when the games begin in Paris this summer, it is clear that only one of the most successful teams in African Women’s football history will make it to France and rub shoulders with the rest of the world.

The Super Falcons – who recently dropped two places to 34th in the FIFA rankings but still maintained their place as the number one team on the continent – will battle for the sole ticket against the second-best team in Africa, a Banyana Banyana side now ranked 51st in the world.

The other ticket to the games will be contested by Zambia and Morocco with the winner playing in Group D alongside USA, Germany and Australia.

The winner between the Super Falcons and Banyana Banyana over two legs will play in Group C following the draw results. Group C houses the World champions Spain who will be making their debut at the Olympics, two-time Olympics silver medallists Brazil and London 2012 silver medallists Japan.

What Both Sides Feel

Amidst the challenges steering him on the face, Randy Waldrum, the head coach of the Nigeria women’s national side who is on his second contract spell believes the current set of players have the potential to break this long-standing jinx and compete with the best teams in the world at the Paris 2024 Olympics.
Ahead of the encounter, Waldrum in an interview told Heritage Times HT, “I think this is the time. Countries have generational teams. I think this team in particular is a generational team.

“I don’t disrespect any other national teams. The talent that we have in this particular team and even the depth we have coming into the team. We saw in Australia what we were able to accomplish with the best teams around the world. I think this team can compete to be a major player on the world stage.”

Despite the Super Falcons’ struggles to secure wins against South Africa in recent encounters, Waldrum acknowledges the quality of the South African side, saying, “My thoughts about South Africa is that they have got a very good side.”

“Obviously they are the defending African champions. We have to have respect for them and the individual talents that they have. They are very dangerous and their coach has done a very good job in making them organised.”

And despite the absence of key players like Ashleigh Plumptre and Tosin Demehin due to injuries, Waldrum remains optimistic about his team’s chances adding, “Like I have said before and at the World Cup, I really liked our team. I have a lot of confidence in our players that we will perform really well.”

Regarding the missing players, Waldrum expressed, “First of all our thoughts are with the two players [Ashleigh Plumptre and Tosin Demehin]. They are vital and important players to us. They are two mainstays in our defense. It is a big loss.”

Nnadozie’ Gangling Effect

Chiamaka Nnadozie, goalkeeper for the Super Falcons is setting her sights on qualifying for the Paris 2024 Olympics in France by overcoming reigning African champions South Africa in a two-legged tie.

Following her impressive performance at the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2023, where she captained Nigeria to the round of 16, Nnadozie is determined to lead her team to the Olympics.

Residing in the City of Lights since 2020 and representing Paris FCS, Nnadozie sees the Olympic celebration as an opportunity to shine in her “second home.”

“I read so many things about the Olympics,” she said. “We didn’t manage to qualify in 2020, I felt bad at first then I said to myself, ‘Come on, you have time ahead of you.

“And that it’s another great opportunity to qualify. I want to know what it feels like to participate in the Olympic Games,” she said.

Arriving in Paris in February 2020, Nnadozie wasted no time making her mark. “She’s one of the best goalkeepers of her generation,” said Sandrine Soubeyrand, her coach at Paris FCS.

South Africa’s Heightened Block Plot 

In any case, the Banyana Banyana have their job cut out.

Their goalkeeper Kaylin Swart expected to be in goal for the African women’s champions admitted that facing Nigeria is always a great battle but they must stick together.

She said, “Playing against Nigeria is always a great battle, we are familiar with each other only because we have had battles for many years up until now and this one is no different.

“I have full confidence in my teammates, and I think if we just stick to our strengths as a team and play for each other, we will get the results we need.”

Timelines of Olympics No-Show For Nigeria 

The last time Nigeria participated at the Olympics was in 2008 in Beijing, when their representatives lost all three group matches. After then, they haven’t been able to launch their way back to the world’s biggest sporting competition.

In 2012, the Nigerian side were stopped by their Cameroonian counterparts after a two-legged clash that ended in penalty shootout which the later won 4-3 and made it to the London Olympics.

Both legs of the qualifier had ended 2-1 respectively in Abuja and Yaounde.

Four years later, no-qualification stamp continued as Nigeria succumbed to Equatorial Guinea in the third qualifier to miss 2016 Olympics edition which held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Nigeria’s women team had begun the qualification in 2015 as African Women Cup of Nations champions.

In 2020, Nigeria encountered another Olympics absence. This term, it was West African neighbours Ivory Coast that stopped the Nigerian women from making it to Tokyo, Japan.

In all, Nigeria, though the most successful African team in women football, have failed to qualify for the four-yearly Olympics participation.

Full Football Squad For Paris Party

Up to 12 footballing nations will battle it out at Paris 2024 in a bid to win an Olympic medal.

In addition to France, the host nation, 11 women national teams will qualify from six separate continental confederations.

Aside Africa via Confederation of African Football (CAF), other continents have produced their representatives (two each), with the Olympics organisers rolling out fixtures some weeks ago.

Credit Gist New Today News in Newspaper Nigeria Headlines

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