With individual berths at next year’s Women’s World Cup sealed, both sides were gunning for glory having met earlier in their Group B opener, which Banyana Banyana won 1-0 courtesy of Thembi Kgatlana.
Banyana, surely, will have been desperate to have made up for previous failures, having reached the final three times without success. They were even defeated in the 2000 showpiece by the Super Falcons.
For Thomas Dennerby’s side, it was a matter of extending their dominance in the competition, and the Swedish tactician made only one change, with Rasheedat Ajibade taking the place of Desire Oparanozie.
South Africa had more of the ball in the early exchanges, and the first real chance of the game came in the 13th minute, when Busiswe Ndimeni fired in a free kick which Tochukwu Oluehi reacted well to keep out. Ngozi Okobi’s shot from outside the penalty area four minutes later failed to test Kaylin Swart.
The Super Falcons got into the game and started to look more threatening, which came in stark contrast to their listless showing in the previous match between the pair.
Congratulations to the Super Falcons. Once again, Champions of Africa!— Atiku Abubakar (@atiku) December 1, 2018
The teams were scoreless at the break, and evenly matched in the stats, with a roughly equal share of possession and two shots on target apiece.
The second half started in the same vein as the first, and even the substitution of Chinwendu Ihezuo – making her first appearance of the tournament, in place of Ajibade – failed to bring any serious spark.
The game came to life in the 74th minute, when the pacey Francisca Ordega was felled in the penalty box by Swart. However, Oshoala placed the resulting penalty wide and a big chance went begging.
Nigeria continued to press, but nothing came through at the end of 90 minutes and, for the first time, the AWCON final went into extra-time.
The penalty shoot-out came next, and while both countries had one miss each, it was Banyana who cracked first, giving the Falcons a 4-3 win and their ninth title .
Oluehi, who was at her superb best throughout, was one of the heroines of the victory. She stood tall in the semis against Cameroon and, without doubt, was the tournament's best stopper.
I don't understand this nonsense about Falcons not deserving to win. It is competitive sport & there are CLEAR parameters to decide winners. Meet them & you deserve to win. It is sports, not art. Your feelings are not as important as the RESULT. FALCONS ADE DESERVED WINNERS!— Babanla (@biolakazeem) December 1, 2018
South Africa were obviously Nigeria’s biggest threat, but luck was not on their side, and Dennerby – who has faced criticism on his handling of the team – proved that he has the guts to keep the winning tradition going.
Can he now write history for Nigeria at the World Cup in France next year?
Desiree Ellis will be disappointed she could not take her country to continental glory for the first time ever, but she can at least be pleased at booking a spot at the women’s mundial for the first time.
Her ladies did her proud, and in particular, Kgatlana - who rightly won the Woman of the Tournament and top scorer award.
As a side that has been to the final nine times out of 11 and lost none, Nigeria certainly reaffirmed their status as the continent's top dogs.
The final, like their entire tournament showing, wasn't convincing, but yet again, Africa's best have tried - and failed - to topple the Super Falcons.