Nigeria – South Africa clash is ‘final before the final’
In a repeat of the 2018 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations final, nine-time record continental champions Nigeria take on South Africa in a much-anticipated Group C encounter that is expected to produce fireworks.
For many, this is the final before the final. It is a pure clash of the titans. The two most in-form teams played in the Aisha Buhari Invitational final in September last year in Lagos, with Banyana Banyana stunning the Super Falcons 4-2 to lift the inaugural trophy.
The result left a bitter taste in the mouths of the continental giants and now they are seeking revenge. They want to correct their mistakes and remind everyone why they are the number one team on the continent in the FIFA rankings.
Speaking at the pre-match press conference, Super Falcons captain Onome Ebi said, “When we saw the draw, we told ourselves that this is exactly like 2018. No team is a pushover. We have a competition to play and no team can be taken for granted.”
“We are here in the first game. It is not going to be easy. It is just like playing a final in the beginning. I like the fact that we are playing them in the first game. I think playing against them will motivate us.”
The Super Falcons, coached by the experienced Randy Waldrum, are a well-oiled team with experience and youthful exuberance and most importantly a never-give-up attitude that has for decades proved why they are the best.
However, South Africa stands in their way as they look to finally break that jinx of choking when it matters on the big stage – and that effort starts in their opening game against the reigning champions.
At the heart of that challenge is goalkeeper Andile Dlamini, who admitted that “Your first game of the tournament is always the biggest game and what makes it even bigger is that it is Nigeria, who are the defending champions. So because it is Nigeria, the game is bigger than what it is supposed to be.”
“It’s also the first game of the tournament and you want to start well. And you know, it’s going to be a tough encounter,because they are a top side. They’re not the champions of Africa for nothing. They’ve been consistent over the last couple of years and that is where we have to improve – to be consistent in our performances, to be able to be close enough to this, but I think it’s all about the three points. I think the three points are the most important at the moment to get the tournament off to a good start,” says Dlamini.
Onome Ebi vs Thembi Kgatlana
With four WAFCON titles and a record five World Cup appearances to her name, Ebi knows a thing or two about playing on the big stage. Her experience will come in handy when she comes up against the youthful reigning African Player of the Year Kgatlana.
Janine van Wyk vs Asisat Oshoala
If the 2018 final is anything to go by then we have a real battle on our hands come Monday. The fast-paced Oshoala, who is fresh from winning the Primera Division Feminina – the topflight women’s league in Spain with Barcelona, will be bringing that form to Morocco to try and help her side win yet another continental title, but first – Banyana Banyana.
The latter’s veteran and former captain Van Wyk will have her hands full on the day if selected to play and her experience is expected to be crucial. Her good eye for the ball and reading of the game will be timely, as South Africa look for a perfect start.
The other matchups worth mentioning include former England youth international Plumptre Ashleigh Megan, who has played for the U17, U19 and U23s before joining Leicester City, and who will be partnering Ebi in central defence as they look to thwart Banyana Banyana’s attack.
However, in returnee Jermaine Seoposenwe, Desiree Ellis’ side have a proven international player who comes with exposure from plying her trade in SC Braga in the Portuguese league.
Linda Motlhalo of Banyana Banyana has shown in the past that her tactful finishing has the potential to ask the right questions of Nigeria and on the other end Rita Chikwelu could be the answer.
Holistically though, both sides are ready for the challenge and the stage has been set for fireworks as the world waits for these two giants to face off!