Nigeria rule but Awcon final exposes endangered dynasty

Saturday’s Africa Women Cup of Nations final showed the undoubtable superiority of Nigeria on the continent as much as it signaled an imminent end to a sprawling hegemony.

After 120 minutes of scoreless action against a plucky South Africa at the Accra Sports Stadium, the Super Falcons strutted their unrivalled pedigree in the women’s game, showing up when it mattered most to steal a 4-3 triumph.

It wasn’t a ‘beautiful’ win; no, that was certainly not flawless. It wasn’t one of those games where the West Africans, as per pre-match prognostications, cruised with authority, teased in display, balled in aplomb and in the end sign-off with a matching score-line to remind all of how unplayable they are.

It wasn’t one of those!

For most people, South Africa were the best team at Ghana 2018 and deserved to win. They came into the tournament as the best prepared side and put an exhibition that showed how much work they have put in.

Thembi Kgatlana

Indeed the 1-0 opening day victory over Nigeria in the group stage was the first sign of an imminent all-new dynasty. It wasn’t just a game Nigeria looked lost, but also a match in which Banyana Banyana did everything right. Thembi Kgatlana’s 85th-minute strike was just the icing on the cake.

Then Desiree Ellis’s outfit moved on to 7-1 thrashing of Equatorial Guinea to show that the first game was no fluke. Against Zambia in their final group fixture, all the Banyana Banyana needed was a draw to qualify as Group B leaders. The 1-1 draw against the Shepolopolo put SA on course for a maiden trophy, even if they missed out on three points for the first time in Ghana.

After a 2-0 win over Mali in the semis, a result which confirmed South Africa for a historic qualification for the Fifa Women’s World Cup, the dream of gold appeared well and truly on course.

Nigeria, meanwhile, drove themselves back into the race with a 6-1 thrashing of Equatorial Guinea, going on to hand Zambia a 4-0 defeat to qualify as group runners-up. The drudgery of their semi-final penalty win over Cameroon only suggested that winning a record ninth title was going to cost a lot more sweat and blood than usual.

Thomas Dennerby, Onome Ebi

Indeed South Africa had every chance to kill off the final even before the end of 90 minutes; with a high defensive line and a high-pressing approach, Banyana had total control of the opening 25 minutes, restricting Nigeria to occasional forays.

Jermaine Seoposenwe saw a shot saved jut under one minute, Mamello Makhabane’s effort was pushed away before Kgatlana’s shot in extra time was collected by Tochukwu Oluehi.

When Asisat Oshoala spurned a 76th minute penalty, it appeared as though Banyana Banyana were destined for a first hurrah.

However, Nigeria showed their big-game power, the spirit, the needed character – all just enough to force the game into penalties.

At that point, the game was anyone’s for the taking, but it was always going to play into the hands of the Super Falcons, for they have seen this situation one too many. It was familiar territory. Not even Onome Ebi’s missed first kick was going to stand in their way.

Nigeria, Super Falcons

As Lebogang Ramalepe and Linda Motlhalo missed their kicks for South Africa, Nigeria showed once again their prowess – that this is indeed their game, their kingdom, their rule.

They did not have to play well to win it, for they knew just how much to give to win it. It was an emphasis of their power.

However, there was an underlining message from South Africa – this dynasty won’t continue for long.

The wall may not have fallen but its cracks have been visibly exposed. Come Congo 2020, it may not stand the fury that will be released on it.

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