Nigeria secured their eighth African CAF Women's Africa Cup of Nations title with a hard-earned, last-gasp 1-0 victory over Cameroon in Yaounde on the weekend. The final was a repeat of the 2014 championship match that also saw the Nigerians triumph.
A capacity crowd of 40,000, including the State President Paul Biya, crammed into the Stade Ahmadou Ahidjo in the capital, hoping that Les Lionesses could finally beat a team they had lost against in two previous finals.
Edged forward by the noisy crowd, the home side were stronger than their opponents in the first half and had a number of chances. Gabrielle Aboudi Onguene should have opened the scoring early on, but squandered the opportunity. With ten minutes remaining before the break, Michele Ngono Mani found herself with just goalkeeper Alaba Jonathan to beat after being put through by Ajara Nchout Njoya, but again Cameroon failed to put the ball into the net.
The second half began very much like the first half had ended, with Cameroon dominant. But they were made to rue their missed chances, as Nigeria's winner came with just five minutes left in the 90 when Asisat Oshoala, who ended up the tournament's top scorer with six goals, fed the ball through to Desire Oparanozie, who finally managed to break the deadlock.
Oparanozie, who has represented her country at the finals of all three FIFA women's tournaments and already had two winners' medals from the African championships prior to this tournament, also scored the all-important goal in the 1-0 win over South Africa in the semi-finals.
Cameroon coach Enow Ngachu, who has been in charge of the Cameroon team since 2004 and took them to the 2012 Olympics and the FIFA Women's World Cup Canada 2015™, was understandably disappointed with the defeat, saying it hurt even more than 2014. “Then, our main goal had been to qualify for the World Cup. This time around, we wanted to win the trophy. We wanted to win five matches and managed to win our first four. We tried our best to make it five, but we could not manage.”
A day earlier, Ghana won the third-place play-off against South Africa 1-0, with Linda Eshun scoring the only goal of the match in the second half.
The Road to the Final
Although the competition did not count as the qualifiers for the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup in France, all eight participating teams showed their determination to make it out of the group stages from the word go.
In Group A, the hosts got proceedings under way with a convincing 2-0 victory against Egypt, while South Africa were surprisingly held to a goalless draw by Zimbabwe. Two further wins, against South Africa (1-0) and Zimbabwe (2-0), saw Cameroon comfortably qualify for the semi-finals. There they were joined by Olympic finalists South Africa, who trounced Egypt 5-0 in the deciding group game.
In Group B, the favourites had a similarly smooth ride into the last four, with Ghana and Nigeria only dropping points in the 1-1 draw they played against each other. Oshoala had the stand-out performance in the group phase, with the Arsenal striker hitting the back of the net four times in her side's 6-0 win against Mali.
The two group winners – Cameroon and Nigeria – proved too strong for their opponents in their respective semi-finals, both winning 1-0 to set up a repeat of the 2014 final in the championship match.
Nigeria's victory sees them cement their place as the strongest women's team on the continent, with Equatorial Guinea being the only other country to lift the African title back in 2008 and 2012.
In two years, teams throughout Africa will again have an opportunity to challenge Nigeria, as the finals are held in Ghana. But with the tournament doubling-up as qualifiers for the Women's World Cup, the Super Falcons will be even more determined to hold onto a trophy they seem to have made their own.