It has been a memorable showcase of scintillating and entertaining football at the just-concluded Africa Women’s Cup of Nations in Cameroon from November 19 to December 3.
From the colourful opening ceremony at the Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium in Yaounde, the city of seven hills, to the action-packed matches in the coastal town of Limbe, the past fortnight has engulfed many a football fan across the continent with life but also brought an end to the irritating stereotype that women cannot play football, entertaining football.
Omagbemi writes history
Nigeria Super Falcons head coach Florence Omagbemi became the first female tactician to win the Awcon crown as a player and coach.
Omagbemi, who is the longest serving and most successful Super Falcons captain, lifting the inaugural Awcon title in 1998 before winning it three consecutive times in 2000, 2002 and 2004, has now won it as a coach.
One of only two female coaches at the showpiece in Cameroon, the other being South Africa’s Desiree Ellis, Omagbemi showed that women too can win trophies and rightly so. She has opened the way for more Nigerian female coaches but also the rest of Africa to believe in women coaches.
Kudos to Cameroonian fans
Never before have we seen fully packed stadiums of fans waiting eagerly to watch women’s football in Africa.
That Cameroon is a footballing nation helped matters and what a sight the fans – men, women, elderly and children made on the streets of Yaounde and Limbe, coupled with those making long trips from upcountry towns to have a glimpse of Africa’s best women footballers.
Tickets for the final sold out on Thursday forcing the Cameroon Football Federation (Fecafoot) to release a statement. On the day of the finale, fans started trickling into the Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium as early as 5am and it was full by 8am!
It is such enthusiasm that makes a case for a bright future for the women’s game. Only the two editions held in Nigeria - Kaduna 1998 and Warri in 2000 - can come close but were still far off.
East and North Africa still minnows
So much for the rise of women’s football in East Africa with the return of the Cecafa Women's Championship in September hosted in Uganda after almost three decades.
Kenya made her debut at the continental tournament but from their Group B results in Limbe, 3-1 losses to Ghana and Mali and a complete whitewash by Nigeria in a 4-0 mediocre performance reminded us that teams from where the sun rises in Africa have a long way to go.
Egypt [above] returned to Awcon for the first time since the debut tournament in 1998 and despite defeating Zimbabwe 1-0 after the referee denied the latter a straightforward equaliser for offside, the Lady Pharaohs still have a lot to learn to match the West Africans.
Nigeria simply the best
When the centre referee blew the final whistle on Saturday evening, Nigeria’s 1-0 win over Cameroon in the final reminded us that the Super Falcons are the true Queens of African football.
As much as the Super Falcons lost to Cameroon in the semifinal of the 2015 All Africa Games in Congo and failed to make it past the group stages at the Fifa Women’s World Cup in Canada in the same year with debutants Cameroon making it to the round of 16, woe unto whoever thought that Nigeria were on a decline.
In their semi-final, South Africa dominated the game but with one sensational strike from Desire Oparanozie, the Super Falcons booked their place in the final against the hosts who were yet to concede a goal at the continental showpiece.
The Indomitable Lionesses created chance after chance in waves of brilliance from kick-off with Aboudi Onguene, Michelle Akaba, Gaelle Enganamouit and Genevieve Ngo Mbeleck all coming close but ultimately being wasteful in the final third.
With one fine finish, Oparanozie buried the game to hand Nigeria her eighth undisputed crown and an assurance about their dominance.
Cameroon’s continued agony
Any football loss between Cameroon and Nigeria hurts more than a derby – it is the biggest football rivalry between neighbouring countries in Africa.
Saturday’s loss was the fourth time that the Indomitable Lionesses fell at the hands of the Super Falcons in a final at this tournament.
The result also provided a platform for revenge with the Nigerians reminding Cameroonians about their famous Afcon 2000 victory in Lagos when the Indomitable Lions edged the Super Eagles 4-3 in a penalty shootout after a 2-2 draw after extra time.
That Cameroon walked away with the trophy in Lagos reminded the Nigerian ladies to seek revenge in Yaounde. The writing was on the wall.
However, Cameroon can pat themselves on the back with their continued progress by the day and if past results are anything to go by then their next meeting will be quite a showdown. From a 6-0 loss in 1991, through to 5-0 in the 2004 final before falling 2-0 in 2014 in Namibia and now a 1-0 loss in 2016, the future looks bright for the Indomitable Lionesses.