By Albert Akota
Cup holders Nigeria have expressed confidence of reaching the Final of the 11th Women Africa Cup of Nations, ahead of today’s semi final clash with the Lionesses of Cameroon at the Accra Sports Stadium.
A 4-0 win over Zambia in Cape Coast on Wednesday zoomed the Falcons back into contention following an opening-day 0-1 loss to the Banyana Banyana of South Africa, and the 6-0 mauling of Equatorial Guinea on Saturday sent the Nigerians into another semi final stage – a stage they have never failed to reach at the Women Africa Cup of Nations.
Today, the eight –time winners come up against the Lionesses of Cameroon, their victims in the Final of the last edition of the tournament. A capacity Stade Omnisports Ahmadu Ahidjo in Yaounde watched in sheer agony as Desire Oparanozie scored a late goal to give Nigeria victory and the trophy two years ago.
“We are in great spirit for the semi final match with the Cameroonians,” team captain Onome Ebi said. “We made our mistake against South Africa, and I think it was a great wake-up call for us. That defeat told us something: that we should never under-rate any team and that we must be ready to give our 100 per cent for every match.
“We will give everything we have to get past the Lionesses and qualify for the World Cup, and then we can battle the final with whichever team we meet there.”
Oparanozie, whose goal saw the host team sucking at their thumbs two years ago, has netted twice in this tournament, same as all –action winger Francisca Ordega, with Asisat Oshoala boasting a hat-trick against Equatorial Guinea, and other goals by Rasheedat Ajibade, Rita Chikwelu and Amarachi Okoronkwo.
The winner on Tuesday earns an automatic ticket to next year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup finals in France, with the loser having another opportunity as the third placed team will also get a ticket. The loser takes on the loser of the second semi final between South Africa and Mali (also on Tuesday evening, in Cape Coast) to determine who bags the third ticket to France.
“We are not interested in the losers’ route,” Ebi confirmed on Monday. “We want to get to the final and to fight to retain our trophy. We want both the World Cup ticket and the AFCON trophy.”
Midfield ace Rita Chikwelu said: “When the going gets tough, the tough gets going. Playing Cameroon will bring the best out of us. It will not be easy and it should not be easy. We knew before the competition started that if we must retain the Cup, we would have to beat the best and strongest teams out here.”
The Lionesses bagged seven points from three matches to top Group A, beating Mali and Algeria and drawing with hosts Ghana in a match that saw the host team eliminated. Nigeria finished second in Group B with six points behind seven –pointer South Africa.
“We will work as a team on the day,” Asisat Oshoala, Woman of the Match against Equatorial Guinea, assured. “Together, we will achieve more. We all know that and we will follow that etho and get to the final. Cameroon cannot stop us.”