Ever-present Nigeria believe they will celebrate another FIFA Women’s World Cup ticket on Thursday night after a quarter-final clash with neighbours Cameroon in Casablanca that will determine who is guaranteed a place in Australia & New Zealand next year.
All four teams that make the semi finals at the ongoing continental championship in Morocco would have picked automatic tickets for the Women’s World Cup, with the team adjudged to have finished fifth presented with another chance for a shot at a Playoff Tournament next year.
Cameroon will come into Thursday’s encounter with the mentality of the yam pounder, knowing they have always been second best to Nigeria at this level, and a third consecutive appearance at the FIFA World Cup will certainly appeal to the Indomitable Lionesses.
A 1-2 defeat at the hands of South Africa’s Banyana Banyana in their opening match of Group C last week Monday somewhat dimmed the shine of the Super Falcons, but they rose stoutly to the occasion and won their other two matches with six points and six goals advantage shooting them to the last eight.
Cameroon also started somewhat slowly, drawing with Zambia, but they picked up impressively and their reward is what is actually the most anticipated quarter-final tie at this tournament.
Both countries flew Africa’s flag at the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup finals in Canada and at the last edition in France three years ago, but Nigeria are the untouchables, being one of only six countries on the planet to have participated in all eight editions of the quadrennial global showpiece.
“We are ready to face Cameroon,” said Nigeria coach Randy Waldrum, after his Super Falcons arrived in Morocco’s commercial and economic capital, Casablanca on Monday ahead of Thursday’s encounter.
Cameroon suffered a 6-0 spanking from the Falcons in the semi finals of the 1998 Women Africa Cup of Nations (which Nigeria hosted and which was the first edition) but things have improved a bit for the Lionesses since then. In the semi finals of the 2010 edition in South Africa, they were thumped 5-1 by the Falcons.
Both countries contested the Final matches of the 2014 and 2016 Women AFCON. In 2014 in Windhoek, Namibia, the Falcons ran away 2-0 winners to lift the trophy for the seventh time. In 2016 in Yaounde, the Lionesses suffered a heartbreak in front of their cheering fans when Desire Oparanozie scored a late goal to hand the trophy to Nigeria for the eighth time.
Four years ago, in Accra, both teams also met in the semi final stage. It was a tough duel that ended 0-0 after regulation and extra time, but the Falcons again prevailed 4-2 after penalty shoot-out on the way to their ninth title.
Thursday’s spectacle in Casablanca is expected to be explosive, but Nigeria captain Onome Ebi says the Falcons are up for the challenge.
“Of course, we know what to expect. The Cameroonians also want to go to the World Cup. But we have never missed the World Cup and we won’t start now. Our eyes are fully focused on Australia & New Zealand, and then we can start talking about the trophy.”
Forwards Rasheedat Ajibade and Uchenna Kanu, on two goals each, are expected to start against Cameroon, with Coach Waldrum also expected to keep faith with most of the crew that decimated Burundi in Rabat on Sunday night.