Super Falcons begin preparation as Ajibade, others arrive in Abuja

Captain of the Super Falcons, Rasheedat Ajibade, are among the early birds as the Falcons’ camp opened yesterday ahead of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games women’s football African final qualifying fixture against Banyana Banyana of South Africa.

The two teams, arguably the best women football squads on the African continent, are at each other’s jugular for one of the two tickets from Africa for Paris 2024 Olympics women’s football, with the first leg holding at the MKO Abiola National Stadium, Abuja on Friday. The return is scheduled for the Loftus Versfeld arena in Pretoria five days later.

Ajibade, whose savvy, skill, and sapience helped the Falcons to the Round of 16 at last year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in Down Under, have been joined in the roost by home-based goalkeeper Linda Jiwuaku and defender Jumoke Alani (drafted in following injury to Saudi Arabia-based Ashleigh Plumptre), as early birds.

Young defender Shukurat Oladipo, veteran goalkeeper Tochukwu Oluehi, Japan-based Chidinma Okeke and Spain-based forward Gift Monday are expected in camp today. The rest of the squad will be in by tomorrow, although USA-based African queen, Asisat Oshoala, is not expected until Thursday.

South Africa’s delegation, including 24 players, will land in Abuja this evening.

The Super Falcons are extra-motivated for this fixture, having not beaten the Banyana in regulation time for many years now, and having watched as the South Africans carted away the Women Africa Cup of Nations trophy in Morocco last year after the Banyana edged them 2-1 in a group phase match.

Nine-time African champions, Nigeria, still call the shots at that level though, with nine of 12 titles contested so far, and with a squad brimming with youth and experience, and the bounce of having been Africa’s best performer at the last World Cup finals – unbeaten in regulation time until their exit via penalty shootout defeat to England.

In 2018 when they won their ninth title, the Banyana were the victims after a penalty shootout at the Accra Sports Stadium.

Both legs of the fixture are of potentially explosive quality. Nigeria will bank on the bravery of goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie, a rearguard expected to include World Cup stars Osinachi Ohale and Michelle Alozie (and perhaps returnee Chidinma Okeke and newbie Oladipo), a midfield of no-nonsense duo of Halimatu Ayinde and Christy Ucheibe (spiced with the nifty Ajibade and the slicky Deborah Abiodun) and a fore-line of Esther Okoronkwo and Uchenna Kanu (with Gift Monday, Omorinsola Babajide and returnee Chinwendu Ihezuo also available).

The full list of players invited for the two-legged affair are goalkeepers Chiamaka Nnadozie (Paris FC); Tochukwu Oluehi (Shualat Alsharqia FC, Saudi Arabia); and Linda Jiwuaku (Bayelsa Queens).

The defenders are Osinachi Ohale (Pachucha Club de Futbol, Mexico); Jumoke Alani (Edo Queens); Shukurat Oladipo (FC Robo Queens); Michelle Alozie (Houston Dash, USA); Nicole Payne (Portland Thorns FC, USA); and Chidinma Okeke (Mynavi Sendai Ladies, Japan), while Deborah Abiodun (University of Pittsburgh, USA); Halimatu Ayinde (FC Rosengard, Sweden); Christy Ucheibe (SL Benfica, Portugal); Jennifer Echegini (Juventus Ladies, Italy); Rasheedat Ajibade (Atletico Madrid FC, Spain); and Toni Payne (Sevilla FC, Spain) are the midfielders.

The forwards in the squad are Omorinsola Babajide (Coasta Adeje Tenerife Egatesa, Spain); Esther Okoronkwo (Changchun FC, China); Ifeoma Onumonu (SLC Utah, USA); Asisat Oshoala (Bay FC, USA); Uchenna Kanu (Racing Louisville, USA); Gift Monday (Coasta Adeje Tenerife Egatesa, Spain); and Chinwendu Ihezuo (Pachucha Club de Futbol, Mexico).

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