The Super Falcons of Nigeria have one tusk in Afcon qualification after a delicious brace from Ifeoma Onumonu gave them a commanding 1st leg win against the Lady Elephants of Ivory Coast on Friday.
With so much riding on the outcome of this match, the Super Falcons gave themselves breathing space ahead of the second leg next Tuesday in Abidjan.
To be honest, I was left rather unimpressed by the brand of football espoused by Waldrum’s Super Falcons in an evening where Ivory Coast appeared more coherent in their play despite going down to a two goals deficit. In truth, the Super Falcons cannot sleep with both eyes closed ahead of the second leg as they have much work to do.
The outcome of this duel is far from settled.
In the last qualifiers against Ghana, Nigeria actually lost the second leg but only advanced on aggregate scoreline. The Lady Elephants of Ivory Coast look like a side capable of scoring more than 2 goals at home, so Waldrum and his ladies are on notice!
This first leg at the newly revamped Abuja stadium was initially a brutally physical affair to which both teams tried to stamp their authority. Both sides were perhaps too pumped up for the encounter leading to tackles flying in left right and centre – at times it was almost like watching female Mix Martial Art fighters slugging it out.
But Nigeria, at that point, tried to get a foothold in the encounter and dictated the tempo somewhat. Even at that, the first big chance went to Ivory Coast who tested goalkeeper Nnadozie with a neat effort, a telling affirmation of their intentions.
Nigeria did find the back of the net only for the referee to pull play back for an infraction against Ajibade in the build up, much to the frustration and anger of Nigerian fans and players who were left bemused at such a weird decision.
Deep in the first half, both teams continued to size each other up. Nigeria elected to strangle Ivory Coast attacking initiatives from the midfield as they double teamed the Francophone players any time they had possession.
Although this wasn’t beautiful football, Waldrum’s plan was clear: to dominate the midfield and not allow Ivory Coast’s attacking initiatives to see the light of day.
Even at that, Nigeria exhibited defensive frailties, particularly at right fullback where the defender was given a torrid time.
Despite taking the lead in 21 minutes courtesy of a cultured finish by Onumonu, Waldrum’s Falcons lacked cohesion and composure. Their attacking initiatives didn’t look coherent and they definitely lacked the swagger, finesse and flair associated with Nigerian sides.
There wasn’t a period where the stadium where Nigeria fans felt their side was railroading the opposition. Celebrations did follow both goals scored by Onumonu and there were periods when cheers of appreciation followed decent moves from the likes Ajibade and Plumptre.
But that exhilarating sounds of ‘Heee!’ Heee! Heee! from Nigeria fans that would ring loud whenever the Super Eagles or Falcons are running rings around opponents was nowhere to be heard.
Even though leading in the scoreline, the Super Falcons were lacklustre and have been like that under Randy Waldrum.
Some of Nigeria’s tackles inside the 18 yard box were last-minute and VAR reviews may have awarded a penalty to Ivory Coast on another day. Also, the Falcons gave away freekicks in dangerous areas close to their box 18. Other opponents will make them suffer for this.
That said, in the second half, there were periods when the Falcons kept the ball on grass to dictate the tempo and take the battle to Ivory Coast.
But Ivory Coast still looked the most composed and polished, so, Nigeria’s second goal in 56 minutes came against the run of play. Just before it came, Nigeria were under siege from a relentless wave of Ivory Coast assault.
But there was still time for Nigeria’s corner kicks and long balls from deep to cause problems for Ivory Coast, one of which actually led to the second goal.
In summary, the Super Falcons attacking plot/initiative wasn’t easy to decipher from a fan’s perspective. Their midfield play was characterised more by crunching tackles rather than eloquent interplay of passes that would have delighted me. The team lacked poise and elegance in their play. They were often incoherent in their build up play. First touches of some players left a lot to be desired and they looked suspect at the back.
But, most importantly, they got the job done.
The Super Falcons anticipated an overly physical encounter from Ivory Coast, hence they were ready to match it.
This 2:0 win is slim. With home support, more clinical finishes and a sympathetic referee, the Lady Elephants have what it takes to turn the tide in the second leg.
But, what Randy’s Falcons showed today is shrewdness and a killer instinct. Should they take the same attitude to the second leg, then the Afcon ticket should be theirs.
Copyright Notice: unauthorized use of this material is strictly prohibited