Desire Oparanozie… A Super Falcons heroine in Cameroon, villain in Lagos
The encounter between Super Falcons and their counterparts from Mali was the first competitive match played inside the Omnisport Stadium in Limbe, a beach town in western Cameroon. It was the opening game of the 2016 African Women’s Cup of Nations.
Though the Falcons won 6-0 with goals from Asisat Oshoala, Francisca Ordega and Uchechi Sunday, the match did not give the fans the kind of entertainment they anticipated.
A win against Kenya in the last group match pitched the Super Falcons with the Bayana Bayana of South Africa in the semifinal.
The build-up to the tie was massive. As usual, players and coaches of both teams engaged themselves in the war of words, laying claims to the final ticket.
Before the two teams departed the Parliamentarian Flat Hotel in Buea for the big clash, Coach Florence Omagbemi and Desiree Ellis (coach of Bayana Bayana), had a ‘gentleman agreement:’ They agreed they would never allow the outcome of the match to affect the personal relationship they had build since their playing days.
The atmosphere inside Stade Municipal de Limbe was super-charged with flag-and banner-waving fans waiting anxiously for the kickoff.
It began with the Banyana Banyana tormenting the Super Falcons in all departments of the game. On several occasions, goalkeeper Alaba Jonathan was called to action by the rampaging South Africans, who troubled the Nigerian defence, led by Onome Ebi and returnee Faith Ikide.
After some fertile attempts by the duo of Asisat Oshoala and Francisca Ordega to unlock the South Africans defence, Desire Oparanozie provided the killer shot, a thunderous second-half free-kick, which was enough to hand the Falcons a 1-0 win.
Interestingly, it was the first start for Oparanozie at Cameroon in 2016, and she proved to Nigerians that she deserved the role with the strike that took the Falcons into the final.
With the final ticket secured, the Super Falcons were faced with another big task, this time against the host, Lionesses of Cameroun.
President Paul Biya led the home support for the Lionesses, which heightened the tensed atmosphere inside the 40,000 capacity Stadium in Yaounde.
The host team had the best of the first half, with Aboudi Onguene creating a number of chances.
As it was in the semifinal encounter against Banyana Banyana of South Africa, it took a dying minute effort by Desire Oparanozie for Nigeria to retain the trophy, their eighth AWC title. That was in 2016.
However, the staory has changed. Super Falcons’ ‘shambolic display against the Banyana Banyana of South Africa on the last day of the Aisha Buhari Cup, which they lost 2-4, seems to have pitched many Nigerian fans against Oparanozie.
The France-based Oparanozie was singled out as ‘most awful’ on the night, squandering a half-dozen opportunities, and easily conceding possession and literally playing against her own team.
Some keen followers of women’s football in the country, however, see things from a different view.
To them, the failure by the Super Falcons in the match against South Africa was a collective failure by the entire team, and not a flop by one individual.
Some analysts have put the blame on the doorsteps of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), for its ‘unpopular’ decision to remove former coach, Florence Omagbemi, despite leading the team to victory at Cameroon 2016 AWC.
“It is unfortunate that the NFF took such a huge gamble by removing Florence Omagbemi and brought in an American coach, who has decided to run the team from his base in the U.S.,” one analyst said on a radio sports programme in Lagos.
“I have not seen any meaningful impact by the American coach since he took over the Super Falcons. Since the commencement of Women’s football, these Super Falcons have enjoyed the best of preparation ahead of every competition. This Super Falcons went on a tour of the United States and Austria, and also took part in an invitational tourney in Turkey. Yet, there was not much technical input in their game against South Africa, and it is wrong to single out Oparanozie for the failure.”
He also blames the Falcons’ poor shape for the preponderance of ‘old women’ in the team. “Honestly, any player in the team that has played for eight years and above should stay away. They can’t withstand the speed and pleasure from the younger ones,” he said.
Another sports analyst feels that it was high time some old players give way for the younger ones in the team. “I don’t know what a player like Onome Ebi is still doing in the Super Falcons. She was in the squad led by Coach Godwin Izilien to South Africa 2004 AWC. That means Onome Ebi must have been playing football in the late 1990s. That Onome Ebi is still present in the Super Falcons is a great disservice to Nigerian football. She has tried her best, and I feel she should give way to the younger generation.
“We saw how the youthful South African players dealt with our ‘pampered’ Super Falcons in Lagos. Again, I also feel that Asisat Oshoala did not give her best in that match against Banyana Banyana.
“She seems to be doing more talking on radio, television and pages of newspapers, promoting her football academy at the detriment of the national team. Oshoala is still young, but she needs to step up her game.”
The FC Barcelona striker has confessed that she is still hurt by the defeat to the Banyana Banyana of South Africa, just as she pleaded with Nigerians to forgive the Falcons for failing them.
“The result of the match was a huge disappointment from all of us. As the captain of the team, I am indeed sorry because we did not fight hard enough. This is a wake-up call and I promise we won’t let our fans and the nation down like this again,” Oshoala stated.