How Nigeria’s Super Falcons tamed a thousand demons to triumph over South Africa

It is the most beautiful thing to watch the Super Falcons show that they are the best national women’s football team on the continent.

Many doubters had a thousand and one reasons why Nigeria could not beat South Africa in Abuja on Friday.

Sadly, I was one of them.

I have always had huge faith in the Super Falcons.

As a keen observer of Nigerian football for several years, I have watched the Super Falcons play the role of a ruthless Further Maths teacher, handling strokes of lashes to teams who were unfortunate to be pitted against them.

The Super Falcons have met expectations, repaid fans’ trust, and dominated African opponents more times than you have a red dwarf star in the Milky Way galaxy.

But the Banyana Banyana don show Nigeria so much pepper recently that even some of the Falcons’ most loyal fans doubted their ability to overcome the South Africans even on home soil.

The doubts increased when South Africa arrived in Nigeria nearly a week before the crucial qualifier.

They set up camp, started training immediately, and kept every other thing neat and classy. It was clear that the Banyana Banyana meant business.

Falcons camp (on Nigerian soil ooo) was opened 24 hours after the South Africans’ was fully operational.

No be say Falcons don go buy market wey get shege pro max inside like this.

When my boss informed me that I should begin plans to go to Abuja and bring‘s darling readers images of the Falcons and Banyana, I instantly jumped at the opportunity.

At the same instant, the awkward feeling that the first Super Falcons match I would watch live in the stadium could end in defeat did not stop scratching at my fragile heart.

The minute I landed in the FCT on Wednesday, I headed straight to the MKO Abiola Stadium, where the Falcons were billed to hold their second training.

The gigantic structure of the National Stadium (pretty much like the rest of Abuja during the fasting period) looked subdued but welcoming.

The place’s ambiance appeared tamed, tempered as if it was hoping for nothing, expecting nothing.

The Super Falcons must have taken the cue as they refused to show up for their evening training.

At that time, Falcons head coach Randy Waldrum was still without three key players, including ‘Agba Baller‘ Asisat Oshoala.

Whatever held the team away from training hard for a must-win qualifier felt like an agent of the devil working overtime in favour of the South Africans.

I rebuke you, oh demon.

The three players eventually arrived early on Thursday morning, but the Super Falcons’s preparation still looked far from ideal.

When South Africa’s coach Desiree Ellis and captain Refiloe Jane came in for the pre-match press conference later on Thursday evening, they oozed confidence.

It was not that crude, brash guts brainwashed into you by a Cameroonian wizard urging you to walk into the Lion’s den with a charm meant to keep away mosquitoes.

It is that chilly confidence that comes with knowing you are champions of Africa, that your opponents are beatable on home soil, that you have done it before, and that you are well prepared to repeat the feat.

And it does not matter whether you are nine-time champions of the continent.

After that session, I was not sure I wanted to watch the game live again.

Watching the match on the TV behind a couple of my favourite drinks served chill in the company of peppered snails and one or two close buddies suddenly looked like a better option.

Thankfully, coach Waldrum entered a few minutes later, and his positive, assured words brought renewed hope into my sagging heart.

It was obvious he had a lot of respect for South Africa, but he was also fully aware that he is in charge of easily the most talented Super Falcons squad in history.

Many fans must have also beaten a large piece of the Waldrum moral booster pie like I did, as several trooped into the MKO Abiola Stadium hours before the match started on Friday.

They watched as the two teams came out to feel the well-cultured pitch.

The South Africans glowed with their crispy, short, sharp passes as they worked on team movement with and without the ball.

The Nigerian girls were curiously relaxed and poised, not in an i-don’t-care way but more like a tiger pretending to be dead and waiting for the right moment to pounce on an unsuspecting prey.

That feeling was confirmed the instant the referee blew the whistle for the start of the match.

The Super Falcons lashed at the South Africans like a stone released from a veteran hunter’s catapult and could have scored three goals within the opening ten minutes.

Fans (include me, please) liked what they saw: the fight, the desire, and the hunger the girls showed and got behind the team.

We cheered every time Abiodun Deborah got the better of her marker.

We loved how Chinwendu Ihezuo bullied the South African defence and screamed our throat sore when she won the penalty.

We clapped for Rasheedat Ajibade as she dribbled past her opponents almost effortlessly.

I heard someone scream ‘I love you’ at makeshift centre-back Christy Ucheibe after she stopped South Africa’s star girl Thembi Kgatlana for the hundredth time.

Even Michelle Alozie, who did not seem to be having a great game, was shown love by fans.

And when Ajibade expertly fired that penalty home just before halftime, the stadium roof in the section the supporters occupied would have caved in if it had not been solidly erected. The celebration lasted a couple of minutes. 

South Africa, WAFCON title holders and Super Falcons’ chief nemesis, were in trouble and looked beatable.

Fans seated close to me no longer looked pensive but expectant. One predicted that the Falcons would score two more goals in the second half.

No other goal arrived.

It was a slim victory in the end, but Nigeria had claimed their first win over South Africa in six years, and it tasted as delicious as a 3-0 triumph.

The tie is far from over, as the return leg is scheduled for Pretoria on Tuesday.

A 2-0 win for the Banyana Banyana will undo all the good work Randy Waldrum’s girls put in on Friday.

However, if one team can go to South Africa and refuse to be bullied, battered, or beaten, it is the Super Falcons.

And my money (I promise it is not my boss’s) is on these tough but beautiful Nigerian girls to fight and carve out a positive result in Pretoria and qualify for the Olympic Games for the first time in 16 years.

No gree for anybody.

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