By Carlos Kambaekwa
Namibia Women’s Football Eleven will have a mammoth task when they travel to Abuja, Nigeria, for the second leg of their Africa Cup for Women’s qualifier in a fortnight’s time.
The Brave Gladiators find themselves with a three-goal deficit after they went down by three goals without a reply against the fired up Nigerian Super Falcons at a packed-to-rafters Khomasdal Stadium in Windhoek on Friday night.
The four times continental champions, led by the highly-rated Perpetua Nkwocha started like a house on fire and had the home team’s rearguard at sixes and sevens with some clever runs into the penalty box but were thwarted by the agility of Namibian goalkeeper, Bonita Eixas.
Urged on by a partisan crowd, the hosts were not to be outdone either and gradually became frequent visitors in the Falcons’ territory but anxiety took the better of pint-sized striker Julian Skrywer and striking partner Salome Iiyambo.
As the first half wore on, the Falcons gained the upper hand and created numerous inviting goal-scoring chances with left-winger Tawa Ishola the chief architect behind their many attacks but the usually reliable Nkwocha appeared to have left her shooting boots at home.
Ishola beat the offside trap and rounded the advancing Eixas in Namibia’s goal but made a real hush of the goal-scoring opportunity from an acute angle, shaving the upright when the net was begging.
Namibian captain, Queen Manga, played her lungs out in the heart of the defence and was ably assisted by Stephany Hummel, not to mention the heroics of Eixas between the sticks.
The agile net minder dived full length to block Efionawan Ekpo’s downward header after the Nigerian connected masterfully with a well-measured corner kick via the boot of masculine midfielder Stella Mbachu.
The visitors’ Cynthia Uwak became the first player on the night to fall foul of the referee’s crime sheet after the bulky Falcon was booked for a dangerous foul on Manga, an incident that did not impress the no-nonsense Madagascan referee, Justine Rasoanirina.
The Nigerians enjoyed the lion’s share of ball possession and territorial advantage, launching a barrage of attacks and the home team’s rearguard was living by the skin of its teeth as the visitors won a dozen of corners, but that oak door of defence just refused to yield under the Falcons’ onslaught.
Mbachu proved a constant thorn in the flesh for the home team’s rearguard with telling deliveries from the right wing as she time and again found space behind her clearly leg-weary marker to whip in crosses.
Rita Chikwelu connected well with one of Mbachu’s countless deliveries and headed inches off the upright with the goal at her mercy
However, the hardworking midfielder dusted herself off and immediately made amends for her earlier miss when she let go with a long range cracking shot that beat Eixas hands down to give the Falcons a well-deserved lead in the 56th minute after she dispossessed Skrywer.
Two minutes later, the visitors stretched their slender lead when Ifeanyi Chiejine got to the end of Faith Ikidi’s square ball for the easiest of tap-ins after a cleverly executed through ball by the troublesome Mbachu.
With 15-minutes to spare, Ekpo unleashed a rasping left footer to put the result way beyond Namibia’s reach, much to the excitement of the few Nigerian supporters on the northern stand.
The strongly built Ekpo masterfully chested down Mbachu’s floated delivery and waltzed her way past a cluster of Gladiators’ bemused defenders, a piece of magic that would have left a seasoned ballet dancer green with envy.
Namibia created the odd chance and on one such occasion Skrywer, a crowd favourite, shot wildly and the ball flew harmlessly past the upright after some neat inter-passing gifted the tiny girl a rare opportunity to test Precious Dede in the Falcons goal.
The home side’s clearly exhausted defence was severely dented further when influential defender Hummel limped off after picking up a knock midway through the second half.
The match was almost turned into a free-for-all boxing contest when a nasty fracas broke out between both sets of players towards the end, but the tension was quickly defused by the ever-alert Madagascan match official.
The return leg will be played in Abuja on the 8th of next month
Despite the defeat, head coach Jacky Shipanga paid tribute to her young brigade for their gutsy performance notably in the first stanza and attributed the loss to a combination of factors.
“We are still lagging behind in the area of basic needs such as nutrition, physiotherapist, a medical doctor because if one looks at the number of injuries sustained by the players – these are incidents that could have been easily prevented if we had decent medical structures and assistance in our midst,” charged Shipanga.