By Bayo Olowo-Ake:
The victory of the Super Falcons of Nigeria, 2-0 winners over Les Lionnes of Cameroon in the final of the AWC in the beautiful Namibian capital city of Windhoek, once again restored superiority of the West Africans over the rest of the continent in the eighth edition of the African Women Championship.
Nigeria pioneered female soccer on the continent and inspired fellow West Africans, the Black Queens of Ghana, and recently, the (emerging) Ivorien female soccer team to give the game all it requires and seeks honour too. These other teams equally gave a good account of themselves, at the 9th edition of the AWC with Cote D’Ivoire winning the third place medal to consolidate West Africa’s dominance of male and female soccer on the continent.
Nigeria went to Namibia with a team that had youth, experience, focused and determined. It also had a good gaffer in Edwin Okon who marshaled a crew that refused to be distracted by the chaos that had bedeviled the national football federation back home.
Here was a coach saddled with the task of cobbling a team together from a female league that had gone comatose, keeping the concentration of the girls despite that situation and motivating them in the context of the threat they faced from other close rivals like South Africa (who they beat on their way to the final), Ghana and their eventual co-finalists, Cameroon.
Okon’s victory in Windhoek resurrects the discourse on the competence of local coaches. He played against coaches with varying degrees of competence and exposure in Namibia and got the better of them all. That says something about the breeding ground of Nigerian technical men and women, the National Institute of Sports (NIS) that has produced several coaches that have distinguished themselves at the highest competitive levels.
Assuredly, the Super Falcons will be feted by the Federal and some Sate Governments in the wake of this soul-lifting victory. In the midst of the fanfare and dinners and cash rewards that will be hosted and doled out, the authorities should pause and give some thoughts to two key areas that, celebrating the victory of the girls without doing something about these areas will all but diminish the gains we have so far made. First, there is the need to improve all aspects of the NIS, including the provision of adequate and world-class infrastructure, strengthening its facilities and boosting its manpower.
Secondly, doing something urgent to support female club proprietors and correspondingly to revive the female league. This could include providing a soft loan or outright grant to registered and long-established clubs, with well-monitored timelines for stage-by-stage disbursement and utilisation. (The Bank of Industry could be the vehicle for this injection).
Namibia did not go far in this edition which she hosted creditably, but has contributed to reviving age-long rivalry in the African women’s game, sparked excitement about female soccer at home and stirred interest again from sponsors around the world. That is a big plus for Namibia, one of Africa’s most peaceful and prosperous states.
Looking ahead to the next competition, it is quite obvious that Cameroon, a Central African nation (often erroneously referred to as a West African country by many, including the media) has benefited from its close proximity to Nigeria to help build her female team.
In the days of a thriving female league in Nigeria, most Cameroonian players plied their trades here and that helped them to shed away any ‘fear’ of Nigeria, resulting in the fact that the first real threat to Nigeria’s dominance of the female game actually emerged from Cameroon. They will host the next edition in 2016 and will be difficult to beat on home soil, meaning that Nigeria and South Africa, the constant sustainable contenders, will have to work harder—for Nigeria to win a record eighth title, and for South Africa her elusive first crown.