Today, for a fourth time in the 50-year history of the All-Africa Games, the curtain would be raised on the women football event as four teams out of the participating seven set the ball rolling in the quest for GOLD beneath Brazzaville, Congo.
Hosts, Congo open their debut campaign in the quadrennial competition against Africa’s no 1 ranked nation, Nigeria, while Tanzania flex their muscles against Cote d’Ivoire. In both pairings however, it’s not difficult to say which teams would win.
Ranked 95th in the world and 12th in Africa – after taking a huge leap up 43 places in the latest FIFA ranking released in July – the Red She-Devils of Congo who played their first international match 11 years ago would realistically still need a miracle to penetrate a seemingly below par Super Falcons of Nigeria.
Yes, the African Champions have fumbled and stumbled since the World Cup, failing to qualify for next year’s Rio Olympics as a result, but compared to Congo, not only have they played more competitive matches this year, they are also a lot more exposed.
Flashing back to 2014, Congo did not even enter for the African Women Championship competition which Nigeria dominated and won, and to this day, they have been engaged in just one competitive fixture; a two legged encounter against Equatorial Guinea in the second round of the Olympic qualifiers which they lost 7-0 on aggregate, which is highly unimpressive.
So would today’s match be a stroll in the park for Nigeria?
Congo may not be able mutter a goal, but if Nigeria shockingly doesn’t score too then a barren draw is what we all get; which means more to the former.
In that regard, concerns have been raised about the strike force of the Super Falcons in the absence of BBC Women’s Footballer of the year, Asisat Oshoala, who is still recuperating from a knee injury, Francisca Ordega, Midfield Maestros Ngozi Okobi and Halimatu Ayinde all of whom have contributed most of Nigeria’s goals this year.
Desire Oparanozie is the only player from the notable front Tri-O (Oshoala, Ordega and Oparanozie) that’s with the team in Congo and she would have lead a new blend of home-based attackers to get the job done. Esther Sunday of Minsk Belarus is also tipped to start.
There can be no GOLD without GOALS and even coach of the Super Falcons, Christopher Danjuma admits that “without goals you cannot win games”, but he insists they don’t come cheap any more.
“The game has become very much tactical and players are concentrating very hard, you need to go the extra mile, pick on your opponent’s weakness to score goals.
In a chat with LadiesMarch, Danjuma went on to highlight how they would approach every game in Congo.
“The approach of every match would be based on the strength and the weakness of the opposition. We have a formation, we have a tactics but with a different form of operation.
“Predominantly we play 4-4-2 in Nigeria but it has different style of function based on how the players are instructed to play. So it’s not the formation now it’s based on the tactics.
When asked if his players are in the right frame of mind to achieve success at the Games, considering how the death of their Media Officer, Gracious Akujobi affected them in the Olympic qualifiers, Danjuma said:
“They are, because everyone has seen it as a forum to showcase themselves, take their chances and establish in the Super Falcons, so psychologically they are going out for the best and nothing less.”
The Super Falcons are yet to win a game under Chris Danjuma – drawing 1-1 at home and losing 2-1 away to Equatorial Guinea in the third round of the Olympic qualifiers – but a first victory against Congo is a no brainer.
Tanzania are the other underdogs of Group A, but unlike Congo, one thing is sure, they know how to score, so Cote d’Ivoire probably have their work cut out for them.
The Twiga Stars are 19th on the continent, 13 places below their opponents who tasted World Cup action for the first time this year.