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Paris 2024: Ajibade wants Nigerians to believe in Super Falcons

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Captain Rasheedat Ajibade has called on Nigerians to have confidence in the ability of the Super Falcons to earn a ticket to the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament in France, as the team flies to South Africa on Sunday night for a flaming battle with the Banyana Banyana in Pretoria on Tuesday night.

 

Ajibade’s strike from the penalty spot earned Nigeria a lone-goal victory over the visitors in the first leg in Abuja on Friday, and even as there is all to play for in the return in South Africa’s administrative capital, the Atletico Madrid ace says the players will be propelled to victory knowing that the faith of over 200 million Nigerians in them is unwavering.

 

“We are not under any illusions. It is going to be a big and tough fight. For us, we have 90 minutes standing between us and the long-elusive ticket to the Olympics and we will give it our all.

 

“We want Nigerians to believe in the Super Falcons. The players are motivated by the keen desire to play in the Olympics. Personally, I have played at every tournament you can think of, except the Olympics. The time to do it is now.”

 

The players trained in the premises of their hotel on Saturday morning and also trained at the MKO Abiola National Stadium on Sunday morning, before departing Abuja for Lagos aboard an Air Peace flight, to connect their flight to South Africa on Sunday night.

 

Nine-time African champions Nigeria will arrive in Johannesburg on Monday morning, and then do a one-hour road trip to Pretoria. They are scheduled to have the official training at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium by 7.30pm (6.30pm Nigeria time on Monday.

 

Chinwendu Ihezuo, Jennifer Echegini and Esther Okoronkwo had opportunities to add to the scoreline on Friday evening, but Banyana Banyana goal-tender Kaylin Swart affirmed her reputation as one of the best goalkeepers in African women football with some brilliant saves.

 

Similarly, the Banyana must have realized and appreciated that the reputation of Nigeria’s number one, Chiamaka Nnadozie as one of the world’s best goalkeepers was no exaggeration, as she thwarted them the couple of times that they got past the defence. Jermaine Seoposenwe was particularly stunned by Nnadozie’s world-class save when she unleashed a belter from 20 yards after receiving a pass from Thembi Kgatlana. Kgatlana herself was foiled on a couple of occasions.

 

The Banyana celebrated the low deficit after Friday’s encounter, but Nnadozie said the Super Falcons will play their hearts out inside the 51,000-capacity Loftus Versfeld Stadium.

 

“The Super Falcons are used to big battles. This one will not be any different. Australia were playing in their home ground at the World Cup but we defeated them.”

 

The goal-tender was referring to last year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup finals, when the Falcons edged the Matildas 3-2 in front of their home fans in Brisbane, and thus guaranteed a spot for themselves at the tournament’s Round of 16.

 

Nnadozie was also in goal when the Falcons overwhelmed hosts Cote d’Ivoire 1-0 in a Women Africa Cup of Nations final qualifying match in Abidjan more than two years ago, and has also been in goal in the two earlier away matches in these qualifying series, in which the Falcons earned a 1-1 draw in Addis Ababa and 0-0 draw in Douala.

 

Home turf advantage has severally been proved to be a mirage in football, even in the on-going qualifying series, with Zambia defeating Ghana in Accra, Morocco defeating Tunisia 2-1 away, South Africa trouncing Tanzania 3-0 in Dar es Salaam and Morocco also defeating Zambia 2-1 in Ndola in the first leg of their own final qualifying fixture on Friday.

 

Ajibade added: “At the end of the day, the grass will be green and it will be eleven players against eleven players. We are ready.”

 

The Confederation of African Football has again picked North African referees for the second leg match, with Tunisian Dorsaf Ganouati as referee and her compatriots Houda Afine and Emna Ajbouni as first assistant and fourth official respectively. Egyptian Yara Atef Said Abdelfattah will be second assistant referee.

 

Agar Mezing from Cameroon will be the referee assessor while Cindy Dludlu from e-Swatini will be match commissioner.

 

 

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