The AWCON final looms on Saturday, December the 1st, and it will between two countries that know themselves relatively well. They are Nigeria and South Africa. For a while now some fans have been trying the kickstart or create a rivalry that technically speaking, wasn't really one. This is because Nigeria, in both men and women, and young and old teams, have almost always had their way with any contingent from the Rainbow nation.
Their dominance was so overwhelming that had even if say, their respective dogs, cats or lizards played against each other, the West Africans would probably have clobbered the southerners with absolute conviction.
Not anymore though. Slowly but surely the South Africans have been improving and this has shown on the field of play. Not only have the Super Eagles failed to beat Bafana Bafana in their last five tries, but the Super Falcons have found things just as complicated against Banyana Banyana. Looking back at the semi-final of the 2016 AWCON in Cameroon which Nigeria won 1:0 against them, there are many pundits who point to that game as being even more difficult than the actual final against the hosts. Regardless if you agree or not, it certainly was a tactical chess game which Coach Desiree Ellis just barely lost.
This year in Ghana their persistence and hard work paid off as we know. In an upset, they beat the defending African champion 1:0 in group play. While that alone would not spell the end of the world for the Falcons, it was the way this was achieved that was disconcerting to the green-white-green faithful. For the first time in their fabled history, the Falcons did not only not score a goal in an opener, but they also lost it and failed to register one good attempt on goal. In other words, they were made to look anything but "super".
Mercifully that seemed to light a fire under them and they have shrugged off the subpar form that had seen them struggle not just against Banyana but also go winless, sometimes to mere teenage Academies, during their preparation leading up to the tournament. Their defence is now tighter than a misers fist as everybody runs back to fill lanes and press the ball.
We saw their resilience and nerves of steel when for two distinct periods in the semi-final, the Cameroonians threw everything at them but the kitchen sink. And yet they refused to wilt. I think it is safe to say that the RSA will not be that daring but like in the first game, will play coy and intelligent and will mostly rely on the occasional encounter from the back. Hopefully, then they will catch one of the Nigerian backs by surprise, and challenge Oluehi successfully again.
The Falcons cannot let this rope-a-dope tactic fluster them and must not walk on eggshells for any reason at all. While they have to still deploy their stingy defense, that for the record has been breached only once so far, they must take the fight to the team in gold right from the opening whistle. Each minute that passes by without a Nigerian goal will only help grow the Banyana confidence and that must not be allowed to happen. The last thing Nigeria needs is for them to actually truly believe that they are just as good and weren't just lucky in the first game. They are simply not a team that plays well from behind, and would rather inflict damage, even if it is minimal, and then lock their gate. Had Zambia for instance, scored a second goal in their semi-final, it would have been curtains for them. Coach Dennerby knows this and while he has been quick to praise his defense, he has not been as happy with the offense despite them scoring 10 goals in three matches - and he has said so.
Oparanozie, Oshola, and Ordega would normally be enough to worry any back four or five in the world, but against South Africa, make no bones about it, victory can only be achieved if everybody plays well.
Just as Nigeria did, South Africa also placed three players in the Best XI of the Group stage so they will not be coming into the fight with their hands tied behind their backs. Far from it. Nothando Vilakazi is the top scorer in the competition and their Captain and ace defender Jannie Van Wyck remains a virtual reincarnation of Michelle Akers the American ubermensch. Also dangerous is Chrestina Kgatlana, who has developed into quite a lethal weapon herself and scored the winner again the Falcons. They must collectively watch her the way their non-football playing relatives in the village, watch a burning field for mice and other edible critters. No escape can be permitted.
Prediction? Super Falcons 2 Banyana Banyana 0.
Game time is at 5.00 pm (WAT) 4.00 pm (CAT ) or 6 pm (GMT) and as of this morning, tickets to both the VIP and regular sections, were still available at the Accra Stadium. Though there is an 80% chance of rain in Accra actual game time weather can be checked by clicking here. Awareness Sports will be at the stadium to continue our pre, live and post coverage of the game.