Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) president, Melvin Amaju Pinnick had three levels of joy to celebrate on Saturday, as the female national team, Super Falcons won the Africa Women Cup of Nations (AWCON 2018) on his birthday, and he quickly dedicated it to President Muhammadu Buhari.
Footballlive.ng reports that Pinnick was all smiles after the Falcons won their ninth AWCON title, third back-to-back, and picked several individual honours at the end of the 11th edition of the continental soccer showpiece in Accra, Ghana.
The NFF boss admitted it was a special day for him, after the Falcons overcame a stubborn South African Banyana Banyana squad on penalties, following a scoreless end to 120 minutes of action to retain the title trophy they also won two years ago in Cameroon.
The latest triumph was achieved despite the Falcons missing top striker, Desire Oparanozie to injury, and on the back of a 75th-minute penalty miss by three-time African Female Footballer of The Year, Asisat Oshoala.
It was also against the backdrop of the Nigerian team having playing consecutive 120-minute matches at the competition, as their semi-final. Clash against Cameroon four days earlier had also going into a shoot-out from the spot.
Opportunities were few and far between in a tight and cagey game in the Ghanaian capital. Both teams watched each other’s heels closely.
Woman-of-the-match, Francisca Ordega, for the Falcons, and AWCON 2018 top scorer, Thembi Kgatlana, on the South African side, came close with sweet touches in the closing stages of the first half.
Just before interval, Rasheedat Ajibade, who had an uncharacteristic off-day, should have done better as the ball spilled to her from a corner kick.
In the 48th minute, Ordega blasted a good chance over the bar, and 14 minutes later, Ngozi Okobi’s good move and pull –out was over hit.
In the 75th minute, Ordega ran determinedly onto a brilliant pass from Okobi, but was scythed by goalkeeper Christen Swart. Zambian referee, Gladys Lengwe awarded a penalty, but Oshoala screwed her shot and it went away.
Okobi and Ordega would miss chances late on, and substitute Nompumelelo Nyandeni came close with five minutes left but goalkeeper Tochukwu Oluehi, excellent throughout, was on call.
Oluehi would later save from Kgatlana and Linda Motlhalo in extra time, just as Oshoala watched a good shot stopped by Swart, and the game dragged on into penalties.
In the resultant shootout, Onome Ebi missed Nigeria’s first kick, hitting the upright, but she got a respite after Alice Matlou and Ngozi Ebere netted, as Lebohang Ramalepe booted her effort wide.
Rita Chikwelu and Nyandeni scored, as did Chinwendu Ihezuo and Mamello Makhabane, but after Chinaza Uchendu found the roof in a cool manner, Motlhalo watched in agony as Oluehi stretched to stop her kick and hand Nigeria the trophy.
Afterwards, Pinnick, who is also first vice-president of Confederation of African Football (CAF), admitted that the Falcons had made him proud on his birthday.
Pinnick said: “This is very special for me, coming on my birthday. I am very proud of the Super Falcons of Nigeria, and I congratulate them for doing our country proud.
“This is the Falcons’ ninth African title, so the news is not that they won here. We dedicate this trophy to President Muhammadu Buhari (GCFR).
“The news is that the Nigeria Football Federation will look for the resources to give the team solid preparation, so that this time, we will make a big impact at the FIFA World Cup and not simply go there to make up the number.”