Defending champions, the Super Falcons of Nigeria will tomorrow in Accra, Ghana, start the defence of African Women Cup of Nations title against Bayana Bayana of South Africa in the opening Group B game of the 2018 AWCON at the Cape Coast Stadium
After a week of intensive training in Cote ‘d Ivoire, the Falcons are ready for thedefence of the title they won in Cameroon and also pick the ticket to the 2019 FIFA Women World Cup billed for France.
The Super Falcons will be searching for their 9th title in Ghana, after winning their eight in Cameroon in 2016.
Head Coach, Thomas Dennerby, is optimistic of Super Falcons’ victory against Bayana Bayana of South Africa.
“Of course as a head coach, you are always under pressure, and when you are the head coach of a big football country like Nigeria, you are always under pressure. But honestly, I have been in this business for long and it’s good for me, so I am not so worried about that.
“But the expectation for the tournament, of course, we always go to a tournament to try to win it. But I also know because I saw the games from the last tournament that other teams from Africa are really good and I think from the last game that Cameroon was better than Nigeria; also South Africa played a very tough game against the Falcons. I know there are a lot of good teams hunting us. Anyway, in the end, we need to be one of the three best teams so that we qualify for the World Cup. If we don’t do that, it is not good at all. We really need to go to the World Cup,” Dennerby said.
Dennerby who revealed that he had sleepless nights before picking his final 21-woman Nigeria squad for the 2018 Africa Women’s Cup of Nations in Ghana, said his squad was a mix of experience and youth. He expressed confidence in the selected players to do the country proud.
“I think that we really have a good mix of experienced players and younger players with good spirit. We also have a really good squad if you look at the skills or players. We have players with very high speed and playing vision and game reading and strong players. It was good to finally pick the final 21-player squad. The last night before always picking the squad is always a sleepless night,” Dennerby told Goal.com.
“It was tough because we have a lot of good footballers and for the coach; it is good when it is really tough. It is always tougher for the coaching staff to make the decision pick the squad,” the 59-year-old said.
Meanwhile, Captain of Bayana Bayana, Janine van Wyk said a win against perennial rivals, Nigeria in their opening game on Sunday can help propel the team to a positive outing at the tournament.
“First game is really crucial for us, it is a game between rivals, but I think in the past we have been slow starters in tournaments and we need to change that, and go with the perspective of attacking from the onset,” Van Wyk told the South Africa Football Association official website.
“We just need to go out there and not show any fear, most of us here in the squad are highly experienced and we have played them numerous times, we must just go for it.”
Aside from Nigeria, Bayana Bayana will also face the Shepolopolo of Zambia and Harambee Starlets of Kenya in Group B and Van Wyk described the draw as interesting.
“It is a very interesting draw for us if we were in either group it would be considered as a tough group. Women’s football in Africa is developing enormously, there are no more easy teams that we will be facing now,” she added.
“I think it is a tough group we are in, and we are looking forward to competing in the tournament.
“These are all great opponents we have played and faced before, they never give us an easy run so we need to prepare well for every team because they are all different.”
Host Ghana will kick off the competition today as they host Algeria, while Mali and Cameroon would slug it out in the Group A second game.
The first three teams will book a place to next year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in France.
The 21 Falcons for Ghana 2018
Goalkeepers: Tochukwu Oluehi (Rivers Angels); Christy Ohiaeriaku (Confluence Queens); Chiamaka Nnadozie (Rivers Angels)
Midfielders: Amarachi Okoronkwo (Nasarawa Amazons); Ngozi Okobi (Eskiltuna UTD, Sweden); Rita Chikwelu (Krstianstand DFF, Sweden); Halimat Ayinde (Asarum AIF, Sweden)
Forwards: Anam Imo (Nasarawa Amazons); Rasheedat Ajibade (FC Robo Queens); Asisat Oshoala (Dalian Quanjian, China); Francisca Ordega (Washington Spirit, USA); Desire Oparanozie (En Avant Guingamp, France); Chinaza Uchendu (SC Braga, Portugal); Chinwendu Ihezuo (Biik Kazygurt, Kazakhstan)
Defenders: Glory Ogbonna (Ibom Angels); Sarah Nnodim (Nasarawa Amazons); Ngozi Ebere (Barcelona FC, Cyprus); Faith Michael (Pitea IF, Sweden); Onome Ebi (Henan Huisanhang, China); Osinachi Ohale (Vaxjo DFF, Sweden); Josephine Chukwunonye (Asarum AIF, Sweden)
Where Next for Ighalo?
It is commonplace for big players to dump their clubs after relegation though there are few cases where such players sink with their team. With Odion Ighalo’s Chanchung Yatai club now relegated from the Chinese Super League, Kunle Adewale asks what the fate of the Super Eagles striker would be
When Fiorentina was relegated to the Italian Serie B in 1993, Argentine super star, Gabriel Bastituta sank with the club and helped return it to Serie A the following season. He became an icon in Florence and Florentina fans erected his life-size bronze statue in the stadium in recognition of his contribution.
One of Italy’s best goalkeepers of all time, Gigi Buffon did not dump Turin giants, Juventus when they were relegated in the 2006-07 season, in spite of his teammates leaving for greener pastures during Juve’s trying period. He rather stayed and helped the club gain promotion to the elite division the following season.
However, in spite of Ighalo breaking the Chinese Super League goal record, scoring 23 goals in the just concluded season, he could not save Chanchung Yatai from being relegated. The big question on the lips of observers is if the Super Eagles striker would go down with the club or go in search of another club.
The large chunk of revenue of most clubs come from television rights, which is not attractive for clubs in the lower divisions and therefore may not be able to afford the wage bills of their big players. This raises the question whether Chanchung Yatai would still be able to afford the huge wage bill of Ighalo.
Chanchung Yatai dropped to the second tier of football in China after they lost 2-0 to Dalian Yifang away from home. Ighalo was unable to feature in the encounter as he suffered a serious injury in their last fixture against Tianjin Quanjin on November 7.
Chanchung Yatai could not depend on their reliable striker who has 23 goals this season in the league.
The result meant that Ighalo’s Chanchung Yatai stayed on 32 points but his national teammate, Mikel Obi’s Tianjin TEDA which also lost 5-1 to Guangzhou Evergrande and with the same number of points with Chanchung Yatai but Mikel’s side scaled through in 14th position with a superior goal difference.
Ighalo put aside his disappointing performance for Nigeria at the World Cup in Russia to emerge the all-time leading scorer for Changchun Yatai with 23 goals to overtake the previous record of 22 goals set by Marcelo Moreno at the club.
Ighalo was roundly criticised for his inability to convert begging chances for Super Eagles in Nigeria’s last Group D crucial game against Argentina at the St Petersburg Stadium.
After Victor Moses cancelled out Lionel Messi’s early lead through a penalty, Ighalo lost a clear chance to bury the game with a sitter but wasted the opportunity before Marcos Rojo snatched the winning goal that sent the South American nation through to the Last 16.
But on returning to his club in the Chinese Super League, the former Watford marksman put that Russia 2018 debacle behind him to focus on helping his club earn respect in the league.
The Eagles striker has been an instant hit in China since joining in January 2017, scoring 15 in his debut and only last April, Ighalo had equaled Moreno’s record, when he scored twice to down then leaders Shanghai SIPG, a feat that earned him the Player of the Month in China.
His f orm however propelled Nigeria’s German-born tactician, Gernot Rohr to stick to the China based forward and he justified the trust Rohr reposed on him by scoring six goals in three matches of the 2018 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier to put the country in good stead at playing in the biennial competition.
“We had gained the confidence to bring Ighalo. I think today he has given the answer. It is wonderful to see him score these goals,” the German said after the game against Libya.
Speaking after the Super Eagles thrashed Libya 4-0, Rohr said: “It is wonderful to see him score these goals. The positives I take from this game is the team scoring four goals because it is not easy to do that. Secondly, it is the comeback of Ighalo. I am very happy about it because he has been criticised in the social media which went beyond any human endurance limit.
“So, I am very happy that he has given them the answer on the pitch. He proved that he is a great player and confirmed the confidence I have in him.”
It however remains to be seen if Ighalo would remain with his Chinese club or try his luck elsewhere.
Ighalo was born on June 16, 1989. He started his career at Prime FC and later moved to Julius Berger and in 2007, he moved to Lyn in Norway. A year after, was signed by Udineze of Italy but was loaned out to Granada in Spain, before signing for Watford in 2014.
Last year, he moved to Changchun Yatai in China for a fee of £20m.
In March 2015, after a series of strong performances for Watford, the then newly appointed Super Eagles interim coach, Daniel Amokachi invited Ighalo to the senior national, and he said then, “I feel good because it is my dream to play for my country”.