Hosts Morocco face their biggest test at the ongoing TotalEnergies Women’s Africa Cup of Nations when they take on the reigning African champions Nigeria tonight for a place in the coveted final.
The Atlas Lionesses have won all their four games at the continental tournament so far but against the Super Falcons, they face a very experienced team that knows a thing or two about reaching the final.
Monday’s clash is a record 12th time Nigeria will be featuring in the semifinals of the WAFCON and they have won nine times falling short only in 2008 and 2012. The big question is – can Morocco stop the Super Falcons?
Sonia Ngozi Okobi-Okeoghene, the 28-year old experienced shining light in Nigeria’s midfield said the Super Falcons would not be overawed by the fanatical support the hosts are sure to receive tonight,
“We have played against teams playing at home and we know how to manage games like this. We do not care about how many people are in the stadium. We shall come into this game with the sole purpose of winning and going to the final.”
Nigeria defeated Cameroon 1-0 in the 2016 final in front of over 42,000 fans inside the Ahmadu Ahidjo Stadium and according to Ngozi, that experience will come in handy. The Sweden-based midfield genius is hoping to play in her fifth WAFCON final, but Morocco stands in their way.
Reynald Pedros’ Moroccan side have grown from strength to strength in the tournament defeating debutants Burkina Faso and Botswana as well as Uganda and Senegal.
However, taking on the record nine-time champions Nigeria poses an even bigger test for Morocco – miles away from facing Uganda who returned for the first time since 2000 and Senegal who last competed at the WAFCON in 2012.
Pedros said, “We are preparing the same way that we have been preparing for the other matches. We are doing our best. After the quarterfinal, we are well-rested and trying to remain focused on our next objective. We have qualified for the World Cup and now our next target is to make it to the final and win the WAFCON 2022.”
“Nigeria is truly a strong team – the strongest in Africa. They always qualify for the World Cup. We have studied them and know their strength and I can say that in the semifinal, everything is possible. We need to do our best.”
“We know that they are strong. They are the strongest for many years. We know this, however, we are going to do our best in this game. We know who we are facing. It is up to us,” Pedros pointed out.
Nigeria have already tasted defeat in this tournament losing 2-1 in their opener against rivals South Africa and according to the head coach Randy Waldrum, the Super Falcons do not want to feel the way they did two weeks ago.
“Coming into the WAFCON, our goal was to qualify for the World Cup and we have done that. Now, we have turned our focus on winning our 10th title and we want to do exactly that. We know that Morocco will have the home crowd behind them but we shall be up for the challenge,” Waldrum said with confidence.
Nigeria will need to be mindful of Morocco’s dead ball specialty having scored all their seven goals from the spot (three goals) and four off free-kicks in fine fashion with captain Ghizlane Chebbak leading the way in execution including two penalties.
Chebbak is also the tournament leading goal scorer with three goals so far alongside Nigeria’s poster girl Rasheedat Ajibade who has taken over scoring duties especially in the absence of four-time record African Player of the Year Asisat Oshoala who suffered an injury in their opener against South Africa.
Both sides have only conceded twice in the tournament and boast of the best defensive setups in the tournament with both coaches having their work cut out on how to break down their opponents.
The much-anticipated semifinal will take place at the Moulay Abdallah Stadium in Rabat at 2100hrs local time and will be live on SuperSport, BeIN and Arryadia TV in Morocco.