It was fitting that it was the right hand of Tochukwu Oluehi that gave Nigeria’s national women’s football team, the Falcons, victory over South Africa in Ghana on Saturday.
The only departments that had a pass mark from the 11th Africa Women’s Cup of Nations were the goalkeeper and the centre-back pairing of Onome Ebi and Osinachi Ohale. Together with Ngozi Ebere and Josephine Chukwunonye, they allowed in just one goal in 510 minutes of football – a very commendable feat.
But there are so many loopholes that have to be plugged if their trip to France in 2019 is not to be another jamboree of just making up the numbers.
Osoala is regressing
Asisat Osoala is [was] the Falcons’ talisman, the go-to woman, but that was before Ghana 2018 because the player that played all 510 minutes and scored three goals looked a mere caricature. She seemed aloof, distant from play and largely unmotivated. The only spark that showed a glimpse of the player Nigerian football fans used to know was after she missed that penalty in the final against South Africa. That kick, wide off the right goal post, actually summed up her tournament – it was a miss!
The gap between attack and midfield is too wide
So many times in Ghana, opposition players knew they could find gaps between the front three and the middle three. Cameroon was very close to exposing this gap while South Africa’s Thembi Kgatlana dropped into this void to try and exploit her pace against Nigeria’s centre-backs. The three players deployed – Ngozi Okobi, Rita Chikwelu, and Halimatu Ayinde are above average players and their collective output should be greater. Thomas Dennarby will earn part of his money by finding a solution to ensuring they play much closer together.
No combination play between the forwards
It is hard to pinpoint a collective move by the three forwards deployed in Dennarby’s 4-2-3-1 formation. Whether it was Desire Oparanozie leading the line or Rasheedat Ajibade, the forward play always looked disjointed. Women’s football largely depends on the pass and move motions and the three forwards are skillful, pacey and intelligent, which means the elements to build a great compound are already available. It is Dennarby’s job to mesh this together into a fearsome attacking collective before France 2019 kicks off.
Substitutions largely failed to spark
In the five matches that the Falcons played in Ghana, Dennarby made 14 substitutions – the final being the only match in which the Swede made less than the three allowed. But it is hard to remember one substitution that actually sparked a revival or better fortunes. In the three matches in which the Falcons have found it tough – against South Africa in the opening match; against Cameroon in the semi-final and in the final against South Africa, it felt like the substitutions took away from the team. If he fails to understand the art of the substitution then the Falcons will struggle in large parts in France next year.
Set piece deliveries were abysmal
The Falcons won 18 corner kicks in Ghana but failed to convert from any. In the final, they tried corner kick routines that did not work out – going from having a corner to sending a back-pass to their goalkeeper. A lot of the goals they will concede in France will come from set pieces. Why they cannot score from corners is unfathomable because there are good corner takers like Okobi and Ebere and the team is blessed with some tall players like Ebi, Ohale, and Osoala.
Dejo Omotoyinbo wrote on Twitter after the penalty shootout win over Banyana Banyana, “More Congrats Super Falcons! Defence wins titles! But 240 minutes of football against Cameroon and South Africa without scoring is worrisome. Team HAS to improve ahead of the World Cup.”
The team has to improve so many areas of their play or it will be back to the past in France.