How Nigeria’s Super Falcons booked Olympics place, 16 years after  

Nigeria accomplished a glorious return to the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament after 16 years, following an impressive all-round performance in Pretoria on Tuesday night that stifled South Africa and rendered their home advantage a nullity.

The reigning African champions, who had boasted that Nigeria’s one-goal win in Abuja on Friday would be swiftly cancelled within the first quarter-hour, sped off the blocks at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium but found a resilient Super Falcons unwilling to give an inch.

Goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie was called upon to save from a deep-flying corner as early as the third minute, but in a back-and-forth theme that characterised the entire game, Nigeria was on the front foot immediately after, with Chinwendu Ihezuo seeing her headed ball caught by Kaylin Swart after a cross by captain Rasheedat Ajibade.

Ihezuo failed to connect with a header to Osinachi Ohale’s dipping free-kick in the 27th minute, but then Nigeria breathed better when Thembi Kgatlana made a hash of an opportunity as the Banyana broke forward.

In the second half, Linda Motlhalo, Jermaine Seoposenwe and Nomvula Kgoale proved a handful for The Pride of Africa, as they seized the midfield and got a couple of good passes to their danger-lady, Kgatlana. But at all times, Ohale, Chidinma Okeke, Christy Ucheibe and goalkeeper Nnadozie were alert and unruffled.

Nnadozie, who plays for Paris FC in France, further enhanced her reputation and market value with great saves in the 70th and 86th minutes. In-between, Ihezuo’s flicked header to an Ajibade in-swinger went narrowly away.

The one-goal win on aggregate means the Falcons will participate in the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament for the first time since 2008, and will join Brazil, Spain and Japan in a potentially-explosive Group C in July.

“We did it! We did it! We are finally going to play in the Olympics,” Ajibade said excitedly at the final whistle.