opinionBy David Ngobua
Although it is said in local parlance that lightening does not strike twice at the same spot, the reverse was the case on Wednesday in Equatorial Guinea where the Super Falcons of Nigeria were knocked out of the 2012 Africa Women Championship by arch rivals South Africa.
It will be recalled that in 2008 at the same stage and same country, the Falcons were kicked out of the championship by host Equatorial Guinea, making it the first time that they would fail to defend their title. Falcons had dominated the championship by winning the past five editions.
Nigerians were therefore used to Falcons lifting the trophy and they took it for granted that other African countries too were desirous of winning. Consequently, the shock defeat in 2008 in the hands of Equatorial Guinea was a bitter pill to swallow.
Two years later, the Falcons bounced back as they thrashed Equatorial Guinea 4-1 in the 2010 finals in South Africa to lift their sixth title. It was sweet revenge. However, when CAF handed Equatorial Guinea the opportunity to host the championship for the second time, most Nigerians concluded it was the right setting for the Falcons to appropriately take back their pound of flesh.
Until the bubble burst on Wednesday, Falcons were cruising in the right direction as victory over Banyana Banyana would have brought them face to face again with Equatorial Guinea in the finals. The host country had eliminated Cameroon but the Falcons failed beat the Banyana Banyana. Thus, for those who looked beyond the semi-final clash to the final against Equatorial Guinea, it was a lesson that they should not count their chicks before they are hatched.
For many, the defeat of Falcons in the hands of South Africa did not come as a surprise because female football in the continent is no longer what it used to be. It is a known fact that other African countries too have embraced female football and have been working hard to end the dominance of the Super Falcons.
Unfortunately, the Nigerian Women league which gave the Falcons an edge over other teams on the continent has been on a steady decline and it counts for part of the factors responsible for the present woes of the female national team. Unlike in the past when the team was a sure bet, the Falcons failed to qualify for both the All Africa Games and the Olympics.
When the team was held to a 0-0 draw in Lagos in an international friendly against the Banyana Banyana of South Africa, not a few people saw the sharp decline in the performance of the Nigerian women. However, those saddled with the responsibility of the team continued to dwell on past glory. It is with this same false sense of supremacy that the Falcons left for the 2012 Africa Women Championship.
For those who closely monitored Falcons performance at the championship in Equatorial Guinea, they were far from convincing. Although they defeated Cameroon 2-1 in the opening match of Group B, and beat Ethiopia 3-1 before rounding up with 3-0 victory over Ivory Coast, they did not inspire so much confidence. It was not the Falcons of old on parade.
Eventually, the Falcons met their waterloo in the hands of the Banyana Banyana who defied the odds to bring them down to earth. As reactions continue to trail the disappointing performance of the hitherto invincible Falcons, two of the team's former coaches, Ismaila Mabo and Paul 'Wonder boy' Hamilton have joined other Nigerians in saying that for a long time, the Falcons have been living on past glory like the Super Eagles.
The two veteran coaches said the Super Eagles bug has caught up with the Falcons. According to them, just as the Super Eagles are no longer a dreaded side on the continent, the Falcons too have become chickens that can be easily devoured.
Speaking to Shot!, Pa Mabo said Falcons have indeed disappointed so many Nigerians with their performance in Equatorial Guinea. He, however, said it is a wake-up call because for so long now, the team had remained dormant.
He said while the Falcons held sway as the dominant force on the continent, other African countries continued to work silently on how to possibly take over from them. According to him, the first sign of danger came in 2008 when the Falcons first surrendered the trophy to Equatorial Guinea.
"We did not bargain for the result we got against South Africa but it has come so we must accept it. This is a wake-up call. For a long time now, something was wrong with the team.
"While we went to sleep, other African countries were working round the clock to take over from us. Such African countries have developed their leagues and are producing players who are also playing abroad. Female football in Africa is no longer a Nigerian thing".
His colleague in the Green Eagles and women football, Hamilton toed the same path with him as he told Shot! that even before now, he knew the Falcons were living on past glory. According to him, the Falcons have been stagnant even as other female football teams on the continent continued to improve steadily.
"Well, what has befallen the Falcons again in Equatorial Guinea is saddening but it is a wake-up. The team needs to wake up because other countries have caught up with us. Even if we were waiting for others, they are here and we have to get up.
"Personally, it is a welcome development because in male football, different countries represent the continent in international competitions. If the same thing can happen in female football, I think it is good for the game on the continent".
On the way forward, the two coaches canvassed for an improved league. Mabo said: "Instead of crying over spilled milk, let us do the right thing. The NFF should make the women league more viable. A country's national team is as good as its domestic league. "It is a pity that Falcons are now struggling like the Eagles but I believe that if more attention is paid to the women league, there will be a positive turn around".
Hamilton also called on the NFF to make the women league more vibrant by getting sponsors for the clubs and the league. "NFF should think of ways to improve the league. It's like the league lacks direction. One keeps hearing of cancellation of matches and teams not being able to travel for away matches.
"Nigeria needs a vibrant league for the Falcons to return to glory days. NFF should immediately re-organize the women league".
This was the submission of the two veteran female football coaches. However, the immediate task before the Falcons is to salvage what is left of their image by at least winning the bronze medal in Equatorial Guinea. To achieve this, they must first beat their perennial rivals, the indomitable Lioness of Cameroon in the losers match.