Nine –time champions and Cup holders Nigeria say they are battle-ready as the stage is set for Friday’s 2022 Women Africa Cup of Nations final qualifying round encounter against the Lady Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire in Abuja.
A narrow 2-1 aggregate win over Ghana’s Black Queens saw the Super Falcons to this stage, where they face high-scoring Lady Elephants who mauled their counterparts from Niger Republic 20-0 on aggregate in the previous round. The Lady Elephants contingent arrived in Nigeria on Monday night.
Most of the players invited by Coach Randy Waldrum have been at a training camp in Abuja, and Waldrum says the girls are fully aware of the importance of the big match.
“Every player in camp is aware of the high importance of these two matches against Cote d’Ivoire. We must win to get to the Women AFCON where the African teams for the FIFA Women’s World Cup will emerge. It is one step at a time, but we all know that we must win well in Abuja on Friday.”
Friday’s encounter, which kicks off at 4pm, is the first game the Super Falcons will play at the MKO Abiola Stadium since defeating their Senegalese counterparts 2-0 in April 2016, in the final qualifying round of the 10th Women AFCON finals held in Cameroon.
Veteran defender Onome Ebi said the Nigerian girls are highly motivated for the encounter on several fronts, including reaching Morocco 2022 to defend their continental crown, having the opportunity to qualify for the FIFA Women’s World Cup and avenging a bitter loss to the Ivorians in the qualifying race for the 2020 Olympic Women’s Football Tournament.
“These two matches are going to be tough; they would be like the Final of the Women AFCON itself. The Ivorians stopped us from the race to the Olympics. We also know that it is by being in Morocco that we can defend our crown and also qualify for the Women’s World Cup. We are battle –ready.”
The 12-team 12th Women AFCON finals, which hold in Morocco 2nd – 23rd July, will see all four semi-finalists qualify for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, to be co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand. It is the first Women’s World Cup to entertain 32 teams – same number as the men’s finals.
Hosts Morocco and Uganda, who reached the finals following the withdrawal of Kenya, have already qualified, leaving 10 teams to emerge from a 20-team final round that begins on Wednesday this week and will be concluded on Wednesday next week.
After their encounter in Abuja on Friday, the Super Falcons and the Lady Elephants have a potentially –explosive final leg duel inside the Stade Robert Champroux in Abidjan on Wednesday next week.