Randy Waldrum’s Super Falcons have undoubtedly put a smile on the faces of Nigeria fans by breezing, quite literally, into the Afcon finals with a home and away decapitation of the Lady Elephants of Ivory Coast this February.
The first leg ended 2:0 at home on Friday and the second leg concluded with a nail biting, hard fought 1:0 win after the Falcons overcame a penalty scare in the first half in Abidjan.
In the 44th minute, Super Falcons fans' hearts were in our mouths as the Lady Elephants were awarded a penalty. It happened like slow motion in a Hollywood movie as charming Chiamaka Nnadozie guessed right to dive to her right with a ruthless parry that kept the pendulum still very much swinging in Nigeria's favour.
To be honest, in my synopsis of the first match, I had observed that late tackles inside the 18 yard box could leave the Nigerian ladies biting their fingers and something similar almost proved costly here.
Mercifully, Nigeria survived on this occasion with Esther Okoronkwo delivering the Kiss-of-Death in dying embers of the game for her first goal for her country in 3 outings. The Abia born bomber blew everyone away with her uncluttered finish.
And 3:0 on aggregate it ended which is a bloody brilliant aggregate scoreline owing to the calibre of the opposition.
Personally, as a West African, it hurts my heart to see an effervescent Ivory Coast and a gracious Ghana miss the Wafcon finals as a result of a ludicrous qualification framework that results in continental powerhouses knocking themselves out in qualifiers.
These sort of duels should be mouthwatering blockbuster encounters reserved for the tournament proper.
And now that we are in the tournament, despite the best (or worst) intentions of CAF, the question for me is: will Randy Waldrum be able to arrest the steady decline that Nigeria has been experiencing in the tournament in recent times?
You see, although the Super Falcons won 4 of the last 5 tournaments, a closer inspection of the scorelines underscore a team on a downward trajectory:
Nigeria vs Equatorial Guinea: 4-2 (2010)
Nigeria vs Cameroon: 2:0 (2014)
Nigeria vs Cameroon: 1:0 (2016)
Nigeria vs South Africa : 0:0 (2018), 4-3 penalty win.
So, the Super Falcons are winning but with less and less goals to the point of not being able to score in 2018.
So, all eyes will be on Waldrum to see how he prosecutes this tournament in the summer. The American comes across to me as a very pragmatic coach. Also, there has to be a connection between having his as the gaffer and the unprecedented glut of dual nationalities now so willing, able and hungry to represent Nigeria.
His avuncular nature seems to serve as a global magnet sucking out all available dual nationality players from every nook and cranny of the globe.
It is truly remarkable that this squad that bamboozled Ivory Coast is arguably slightly under-strength, more so in the first leg where the likes of Oparanozie, Ordega, Zogg and Oshoala were conspicuous in their absence, and more goals were scored.
In his alchemy of success, Waldrum is not short of pragmatism, in fact he has that in excess. If only he can add a bit of poise and panache to his cocktail of practicality and expediency, we may just witness a team that will not only get the job done, but will do it in a Limousine (now, won't that be beautiful?).
But for now, Randy and his girls have done yeoman's job against Ivory Coast and Ghana across 4 legs - something they can be proud of, something to which the fans are immensely grateful.
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