Tuesday's Africa Women Cup of Nations semi-final between fierce rivals Nigeria and Cameroon was about both progression to the final of this year's tournament, and qualification for next year's World Cup in France.
Cameroon had only beaten Nigeria once at the AWCON, which was the 2012 third/fourth play-off. The other times they lost, being beaten in the 1991, 2004, 2014 and 2016 final, as well as the 2008 third/fourth place playoff, which was decided on penalties.
They had also met three previous times in the group phase, and another three time in the semis.
When the Super Falcons of Nigeria wanted to play the penalty kicks against Cameroon, i consulted onisegun Agba, Fadeyi Oloro and he gave me assurance that we'll enter the #AWCON2018 final. #TotalAWCON2018 #CMRNGA pic.twitter.com/br96tXy4oh — My name is Dare Kuti (@dkuti82) November 27, 2018
This was a good chance to enact some revenge.
The Central Africans started brightly, having more of the ball, but they never really threatened when charging into the 18-yard area. Nigeria equally didn’t offer much, as their opponents remained resolute at the back.
By the half-hour mark, Ngachu Enow’s ladies had taken four shots (one on target), while Thomas Dennerby’s side had none.
Super Falcons keep their place in the elite group of only 7 teams to have qualified for every World Cup since inception in 1991.
The others are USA, Brazil, Sweden, Norway, Japan and Germany.
Massive for Nigeria. #PoojaFootball — POOJA... (@PoojaMedia) November 27, 2018
This was probably an indication that things were going to be cagey, just as they were in the 2016 final in Yaoundé. It was a matter of whoever blinks first...
The second half went with both sides playing with caution. Even the introduction of wonderkid Rasheedat Ajibade in the 61st minute did little to increase the tempo.
The first real chance of the match fell to Cameroon, who had an effort from outside the penalty box, and Nigeria number one Tochukwu Oluehi make a good reflex save to the tip the ball over.
Not too long after, a defensive error from the Falcons defence gave the Indomitable Lionesses a chance to take a long-deserved lead, but there was no one in the box and Oluehi gathered the loose ball with ease.
Desire Oparanozie – who has had a stellar tournament so far, could only shoot straight at Cameroon goalie Annette Ngo Ndom from just outside the box in the 80th minute, after receiving a fine pass from Francisca Ordega.
To be fair, the "Indomitable lionesses" were good today, they were fast, good with the ball tackling players with the ball, good passes, high possession;
It just wasn't their day.
It would have been a great watch to see them against B - B.
Go Super Falcons.#TotalAWCON18 — Mach Ann (@youriplawyer_) November 27, 2018
It was goalless by the end of 90 minutes, and next was extra time, but that failed to produce anything, with the players clearly looking tired.
On to penalties, and the first two spot kicks from each country were converted. However, when it got to Cameroon’s third kick, it was comfortably saved by Oluehi.
It was advantage Nigeria from here, with Asisat Oshoala – who had a relatively quiet evening after her hat-trick heroics against Equatorial Guinea, scoring the next. The Cameroonians missed their fourth penalty, and it was left to Ngozi Ebere to win it.
She made no mistake; the Super Falcons triumphed 4-2.
The Indomitable Lionesses will be disappointed seeing that they were the ones more likely to make something happen but their greater possession ultimately counted for little in the end.
It's another damning defeat by Nigeria in the AWCON, and while that’s a bitter pill for Cameroon to swallow, the Super Falcons – with a spot at the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France booked – can now look towards an 11th final appearance when they take on South Africa at the Accra Sports Stadium on Saturday.
Beneath the celebrations, however, they will surely be aware that on a different day, they may not have got away with such a sub-par showing.
Banyana Banyana were 2-0 victors over Mali in other semi-final, courtesy of strikes from Thembi Kgatlana – her fifth of the ongoing tournament – and Lebogang Ramalepe. It’s going to be a rematch of the Group A opener in which the Falcons were largely disappointing, with Kgatlana scoring a screamer.
Finally, a new player to challenge the status quo on the continent. I'm rooting for @KgatlanaJnr11 to win the African Women's Footballer of the Year. She's had an amazing tournament with five goals in four. Can't wait to watch her in the final. #AWCON2018 pic.twitter.com/oGRpIo0IpW — Lolade Adewuyi (@Jololade) November 28, 2018
Banyana were impressive that evening, and top scorer Kgatlana – who is touted to end Oshoala’s dominance as the African Women’s Footballer of the Year – will be raring to go once again and cause havoc to the Falcons' backline.
Indeed, both continental powerhouses have met in the AWCON final twice (1995 and 2000), and having reached the showpiece on two other occasions (2008 and 2012) only to lose to Equatorial Guinea, this is an ideal chance for South Africa to make history and become the first side to defeat Africa’s most successful women’s national team in a final.
Considering the weaknesses Nigeria demonstrated on Tuesday, they may fancy their chances.