Nigeria have won the 2018 African Women Cup of Nations (AWCON) beating South Africa 4-3 on penalty shoot-out following a goalless draw after extra time on Saturday evening in Accra as Linda Motlhalo failed to force a sudden death.
It is record-extending eleventh time the Super Falcons have won the AWCON – if tournaments without specific host nations are counted.
It was the first time the AWCON final went into extra time and again had to be decided on shoot-out and Saturday’s heroine was goalkeeper Oluehi Tochukwu who saved Motlhalo’s kick to hand Nigeria their eleventh AWCON title.
At some key moments the god of luck rather than the god of ultimate success smiled at the team of coach Desiree Ellis two times after Asisat Oshoala missed a penalty in the 74th minute and as Ebi Enome missed Nigeria’s first kick of the shoot-out but in the end, the tournament’s greatest bounced back to produce a perfect set of penalties to win 4-3 as the Babayana Bayanana – arguably the best overall team of the tournament – missed two of their five kicks.
It was the third consecutive AWCON final success for the Super Falcons after edging out Cameroon in the 2014 and 2016 finals to lift the ultimate prize.
Both Nigeria and South Africa had already qualified for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup finals to be staged in France but the stakes were still high for both sides.
Nigeria have now won the AWCON in four different external countries ; South Africa in 2000, 2004 and 2010, Namibia in 2014, Cameroon in 2016 and Ghana this year – equaling the record of Egypt who had won the men’s AFCON in four different external territories – Sudan in 1957, 1998 in Burkina Faso, Ghana in 2008 and Angola in 2010.
The South Africans were searching for their first final success at the tournament after the ignominy of finals failures of the 1995 and 2000 editions against Nigeria and in 2008 and 2012 versus Equatorial Guinea but Bayana Bayana would now have to look forward to Congo 2020 to try to achieve the Holy Grail.
Innocencia Ndimeni , in the 13th minute, tested Nigeria goalkeeper Oluehi Tochukwu who produced a great diving save to keep out a powerful free-kick effort from the Bayana Bayana midfielder.
The South African defence on the other hand came under pressure in the 23rd minute but goalkeeper Christen Swart did well to prevent a goal and in the 38th minute Francisca Ordega – perhaps the most animated player in a subdued first half – produced a brilliant piece of skill to undo her marker in the opponent’s box but she over hit the cross intended for her teammates.
Three-time Africa Women’s Player of the Year winner – Oshoala – wanted a penalty at the stroke of half time after taking a tumble in the area but Zambian referee Gladys Lengwe waved play on.
Meanwhile the tournament’s highest goalscorer Chrestinah Kgatlana who had notched up 5 goals before the final match was strongly policed by the Super Falcons defenders.
After the break, Ordega almost got the opener just two minutes into the second half but her left-footed effort from a tight angle went wide.
The first biggest moment of the game however arrived in the 73rd minute when the dangerous Ordega latched onto a delightful long ball from midfielder Sonia Okobi and was brought down in the penalty box by Swart. Referee Lengwe did not hesitate to point to the spot and Oshoala – scorer of three goals in the tournament already – stepped forward to execute it but her poor kick drifted wide to keep the scoreline still at 0-0.
Oshoala was denied again in the 94th minute in extra time after blasting a low shot into the South Africa goal but goalkeeper Swart parried her effort away.
Three minutes later it was the most potent player of the tournament Kgatlana that threatened the defending champions dribbling her way through the Nigerian defence before firing a low shot but was easily picked up by Tochukwu as both sides failed to register a goal – the first time this happened in the competition’s history.
Nigeria’s Ebi Enome took the first kick in the tie-breaking shoot-out and once again the god of fortune smiled at the South Africans as Ebi crushed her effort against the right post of Swart as substitute Noko Alice scored to give South Africa the advantage but Ramalepe’s miss brought Nigeria level after Ebere Ngozi delivered a flawless kick.
At 4-3, all hope of South Africa rested on Motlhalo to force a sudden death but the substitute saw her effort saved by the monstrous Tochukwu.
Nigeria starting line-up:
GK Oluehi Tochukwu
Chiwendu Josephine. Ohale Marvis Osinachi. Ebi Onome. Ngozi Ebere
Ibrahim Halimatu. Ngozi Sonia Okobi
Rita Chikwelu. Ajibade Busayo Rasheedat. Ordega Francisca
South Africa start list:
GK Christen Swart
Ester Ramalepe. Janine Van Wyk. Nolufefe Mbane. Nothando Vilakazi
Wiloma Smeda. Mamello Makhabane
Linda Maserame Motlhalo. Innocencia Ndimeni. Jermaine Seoposenwe
Referee : Gladys Lengwe (Zambia)