October 1, 2022

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Buhari, Dare, Pinnick, others salute gallant Falcons

Reactions have trailed the painful exit of the Super Falcons from the 2022 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations in Morocco, The PUNCH reports.

The nine-time winners, who were reduced to nine women following the expulsion of forward Rasheedat Ajibade and Halimat Ayinde in their semi-final clash against hosts Morocco, had their hopes of clinching a 10th WAFCON title dashed as they lost 5-4 on penalties following a 1-1 stalemate in front of 45, 562 fans at the packed Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium, Rabat.

After midfielder Ayinde was dismissed for a poor tackle, Falcons took the lead through an own goal from Yasmine Mrabet before Sanaa Mssoudy equalised minutes later.

The defending champions then had Ajibade sent off for another rash tackle, with 19 minutes left, and a resolute defensive display saw the match go to penalties.

In the penalty shootout, forward Ifeoma Onumonu missed for Nigeria as Rita Chikwelu, Regina Otu, Ashleigh Plumptre and Gift Monday all scored.

Morocco scored all their kicks, through Yasmin Mrabet, Ghizlane Chebbak, Zineb Redouane, Nesryne El Chad and Rosella Ayane to send them through to the final of the competition for the first time ever.

The loss makes it the third time the Falcons will not feature in a WAFCON final since its inception. The other two occasions ended in third and fourth place finishes in 2008 and 2012 respectively, with Equatorial Guinea the eventual winners.

The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), in a statement signed by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, on Tuesday, commended the “resilience and professionalism” of the Falcons.

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The statement titled ‘Thanks for the gallant display, President Buhari to Super Falcons’ read, “Although many will be disappointed with the Moroccan victory on penalties, there are many positive outcomes for the Nigerian team to take home and prepare better for the next tournament.”

Minister of Youth and Sports, Sunday Dare, also applauded the Falcons.

Eulogising the nine-time winners, Dare said, “Your resilience, character and management of the game must be commended. I salute your doggedness, commitment and fighting spirit. For holding the Moroccans in front of over 45,000 capacity crowd you have once again displayed the never say die attitude of a true Nigerian.

“Even when down to nine players after those red cards, you held your own. You are our champions. Nigeria is proud of you.

“It was a match I followed very keenly and I am so proud you displayed the Nigerian spirit. I am proud of this team, even in defeat.”

Also, President, Nigeria Football Federation, Amaju Pinnick, showered encomiums on the squad for a valiant display on Monday night.

He said, “Of course, we would have been happy to be in the final and chase a 10th title. But I am happy with the performance of the team and the way they approached the game, despite all sorts of setbacks and intimidation.

“To play 50 minutes of a game with only nine players is not an easy task. The Super Falcons gave their all and were truly fabulous. They had the ‘Nigeria spirit’ in them and showed a sense of patriotism, were dogged and refused to give up. Penalties are forever a lottery, so it could have gone either way. I commend the team for the outing.”

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Striker Desire Oparanozie, who missed the tournament due to travel restrictions in China, hailed the fighting spirit of the Falcons despite losing to hosts Morocco.

“True definition of the Naija spirit. You gave and left everything out there on the pitch, against all odds. I couldn’t be more proud of this team.”

Speaking with The PUNCH, former Nigeria midfielder Rita Nwadike said, “There were many factors that made the team lose, but overall they did very well. They fought till the last and we all know that penalties could go any way. The team should put the defeat behind them and focus on the last game on Friday.

“I’m proud of their feat and what the players did, despite playing with two women down. They showed great character.”

A former Falcons forward, Efioanwan Ekpo, who is now local side Pelican Stars coach, added, “They did well, nobody can fault them for the defeat, but it was a game that they could have won. No blames, we just have to get behind the team and show more support to them. It wasn’t good to see them lose the way they did in the shootout, but they bowed out with their heads high.”

Former Nigerian midfielder, Henry Nwosu, commended the Falcons for their resilience and determination against the odds.

“I don’t consider this as a defeat but a victory for the gallant Super Falcons despite going two players down and holding their own till the penalty shootout,” the 1980 AFCON winner said.

“Credit should be accorded to the women because it was a spirited performance from them. They showed great character and determination as far as I am concerned.”

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Journalist Mimi Fawaz urged the team to remain focused.

“Keep your heads high. You were absolutely fantastic. Real warriors. Down to nine women and you kept on fighting, taking it all the way to penalties. Amazing fighting spirit, what a future that lies ahead. You made a nation proud.”

Dele Yusuf added on Twitter, “We’ve never failed to make the semi-finals and we are nine times champions. If not for uncontrolled excessive aggression, the Moroccans, were no match for our girls. The Falcons remain the best on the continent.

Another fan Divinity Chinat stated, “The Falcons really made us proud, it was Nigeria against African. Super Falcons are the best.”

@makcres revealed that she does not regret supporting the team.

Nigeria now play Zambia, who lost 1-0 to South Africa in the other semi-final clash, in the third-place tie on Friday.

Meanwhile, the Falcons returned to Casablanca on Tuesday for Friday’s third-place match against Zambia at the Stade Mohammed V.