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‘Cameroon 2016 is baptism of fire for Omagbemi’

By Gowon Akpodonor   |   15 October 2016   |   4:15 am

Super Falcons captain, Evelyn Nwabuoku battling for survival at the Sam Nujoma Stadium, Windhoek, Namibia in 2014.

Super Falcons captain, Evelyn Nwabuoku battling for survival at the Sam Nujoma Stadium, Windhoek, Namibia in 2014.

Former Head Coach of the Super Falcons, Ismalia Mabo says the 10th African Women Cup of Nations holding in Cameroon next month will be a baptism of fire for the handler Florence Omagbemi.

Omagbemi has invited 30 players, made up of eight foreign-based and 22 home-based to commence preparation for the championship, where the Falcons will play against perennial rival, Black Queens of Ghana, Mali and Kenya. The championship will run from November 19 to December 3.

Speaking with The Guardian yesterday, Mabo, who led the Falcons to win the inaugural edition of the AWC in 1998 in Abeokuta said: “I have been campaigning for an ex-Nigerian female players to lead the Falcons, and I am happy Omagbemi is taking the position since Uche Eucharia left. But she must be very careful in handling the assignment at hand because Cameroon 2016 will be like a baptism of fire for her.”

For 16 years, Omagbemi was one of the amazons who shouldered Nigeria’s quest for glory in both CAF and FIFA Women’s championships.From the inaugural edition of the World Cup in China ’91, to Sweden ’95, USA ’99 and USA 2003, Omagbemi was in the defence, providing cover for goalkeeper Ann Chijine against oppositions.

Omagbemi and her ‘golden’ generation of the Super Falcons reached the second round of the FIFA World Cup at USA ’99 under coach Mabo, where Nigeria narrowly lost the semifinal ticket to Brazil. Till date, the record still stand as Nigeria’s best at the World Cup. Before then (1998), she led the Falcons to capture the maiden African Women Championship (AWC) title in Abeokuta. She also won it in 2000, 2002, 2004 and 2006.

In 2012, Omagbemi was part of the Nigerian U-20 Women team’s technical crew that got to the semifinal in Japan. She worked with former Falcons coach, Edwin Okon in Japan.

Omagbemi’s profile has been on the rise since then, especially at global level. That same year, FIFA listed Omagbemi as a member of Women’s U-17 World Cup organizing committee held in Azerbaijan. She was also a member of the FIFA Women’s U-17 World Cup organizing committee at Costa Rica in 2014.

Last year, Omagbemi was elevated to the senior rank, as she was listed as a member of FIFA’s Technical Study Group (TSG) for Canada 2015 Women’s World Cup.

Omagbemi is the second ex-Falcons player to handle the women senior team. The first was ex-striker, Uche Eucharia, but she failed with the team, as she could not qualify the girls for the All Africa Games in Maputo and the 2012 Olympics in London. Eucharia could not also take the team beyond the group stage at Germany 2011 World Cup.

Before Omagbemi’s emergence as coach of the Super Falcons in March this year, the team had harvested series of poor results, including failure to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, as well as a humiliation at the last All African Games in Brazzaville Congo, where they failed to win a medal of any colour.

Omagbemi’s first assignment was a double-header against a ‘stubborn’ Lioness of Senegal, which she won to qualify the Flacons for Cameroon 2016 African Nations Cup.

As the countdown begins to Cameroon 2016, where the Falcons will defend the Nations Cup title they won at the beginning of the Amaju Pinnick-led NFF administration two years in Namibia, coach Mabo wants the federation to give the Omagbemi-led technical crew the support they need to prepare the team.

“I have seen the list of players she invited for the championship in Cameroon, and the next step will be how well the team is prepared for the competition,” Mabo said. “I am saying this because the only way to success in the AWC is how well you build your team from day one. I really want Omagbemi to succeed with the team so that it will open way for other ex-players to be appointed as coaches of the various female national teams,” Mabo stated.

For the battle of Cameroon, Omagbemi has invited eight foreign-based players, including reigning Africa Woman Player of the Year, Asisat Oshoala, who plies her soccer trade with Arsenal Ladies in England.

An official of the NFF told The Guardian that Omagbemi was told to limit invitation to only eight foreign-based players due to the current financial situation of the federation. “We want to avoid a situation whereby the players will be holding us to ransom over non-payment of ticket refund. That is why we told Omagbemi to limit her invitation to only eight foreign-based players. The coach actually wanted the NFF to extend the number to 14 or 16 so that she could have a pool of players to select from, but there is nothing we can do,” the official stated.

With the directive from the NFF, Omagbemi may have been forced to ignore Onome Ebi, Esther Sunday, Courtney Dike, Uchechi Sunday and Ini-Abasi Umotong, among others. It was learnt that the coach earlier plan of bringing Finland-based striker, Cynthia Uwak and goalkeeper Tochukwu Oluehi back to the team to fight for shirt could not scale through due to the limited number approved by the NFF.

The eight invited overseas-based players are Rita Chikwelu, Ngozi Okobi and Sweden-based Faith Ikidi who is making a return to the squad after a long time. Others are Ngozi Ebere, Evelyn Nwabuoku, Desire Oparanozie, Francisca Ordega and Asisat Oshoala.
The home-based players invited for the battle of Cameroon are Ibubeleye Whyte, Osinachi Ohale, Gladys Akpa, Ugo Njoku, Chioma Wogu, Glory Iroka, Blessing Edoho, Osarenoma Igbinovia, Alaba Jonathan, Nkemakola Uwandu, Rita Akarekor, Alice Ogodo, Seun Bello, Maureen Toyla, Nnenna Eke, Gladys Abasi, Sherifat Saheed, Yetunde Aluko, Ijeoma Obi, Anam Imo, Nnenna Julius and Chioma Nwankwo.

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