By Kunle Fayiga

The Super Falcons of Nigeria have been the undisputed queens of women’s football in Africa. Their 11 Africa Women Cup of Nations titles is testament to that. Not forgetting that the country is the highest recipient of the African Women’s Footballer of the Year award with 11 accolades, eight of which are held by two women, a record four each.

All good things must however come to an end and its already showing signs for the Falcons after they lost 4-2 to South Africa on the final day of the Aisha BuhariCup in Lagos on Tuesday, 21 September.

Banyana Banyana blitzed to a 3-0 first-half lead and though it seemed Nigeria would claw their way back with Rivers Angels star Vivian Ikechukwu netting a brace, it was not to be, with Mamello Makhabane hitting the nail in the coffin to secure the required six points to be crowned champions.

It was anything from inspiring by the Falcons during this competition. They were lethargic during their opener against Mali, with the likes of star players in Asisat Oshoala, DesireOparanozie, Rita Chikwelu and Onome Ebi nowhere to be found and had FC Robo player, Gift Monday, to thank, from saving their blushes, with her brace that sealed a 2-0 win.

Against South Africa, it was the same thing with Oparanozie in particular wasteful, but then it was another home-based star in Ikechukwu who covered those lapses.

One doesn’t really know why the Super Falcons’ uninspiring display in the Aisha Buhari Cup. This was a time they were supposed to cement their status as Africa’s number one as they were on home soil. Sadly, they had a first which was distasteful.

They conceded three goals in the first half to an African side for the first time ever. It’s also the first time they’ve shipped in four goals to an African opposition.

These are clearly not stats good for reading from a Falcons perspective, which beckons if they really know what is at stake.

Other African sides are rising and catching up to the Falcons dominance. Gone are the days when the West African giants would sweep past their opponents with ease, such that one would wonder if Nigeria was the only country that existed in women’s football in Africa.

However, looking at the 2018 Africa Women’s Cup of Nations held in Ghana, Nigeria did win, but were far from their best when it mattered the most. They got beaten by Banyana in their group opener thanks to a Thembi Kgatlana beauty, and only prevailed in the final to the same opponent via penalties after a goalless 90 minutes. In the semi-final against Cameroon as well, penalties were needed to decide the winner.

Kgatlana went on to win the Golden Ball, Golden Boot of the tournament and ultimately the African Women’s Footballer of the Year.

Banyana have shown more determination since that 2018 AWCON loss and were not going to be laid back in an Aisha Buhari Cup that had top personalities such as the FIFA President, Gianni Infantinoand CAF president Patrice Motsepe in attendance. Also, the competition performance was going to reflect in the world rankings. This meant it wasn’t a competition to toy with even though just a friendly.

Banyana coach Desiree Ellissays her side were put to the test and called for more consistency because according to her, the Falcons remain the standard and will bounce back.

“We wanted to test ourselves, and we are now duly tested, but we need to be consistent with what we do. Nigerians have been consistent over the years and we must not forget that they will be back,” Ellis stated.

“They have proved they are good over the years and they are the best team on the African continent, and for us to be put in that bracket, we need to be consistent against bigger and better teams.”

It’s more surprising that the Super Falcons couldn’t make it count in the Aisha Buhari Cup as they had more preparation heading into the tournament with six games under their belt this year, the most recent played in June, as against South Africa’s two matches, their last prior to the tournament played in April.

Countries like Ghana equally made a bold statement at this Aisha Buhari Cup, with a sizzling performance against Cameroon where players like Janet Egyir, was a joy to watch at right-back and across the back line even with her diminutive stature.

The rest of Africa is fast rising and the Super Falcons can’t continue to rest of their oars.

Banyana Banyana have demonstrated this and it could be another country next. Even though coach Ellis acknowledged the 11-time African champions remain the standard of women’s football on the continent, things can change pretty fast.

It’s left for the Falcons and all concerned parties with women’s football in Nigeria to accept this reality and do the needful if they still want to hold on their crown. –

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