Cup holders Nigeria have commenced a training camp at the country’s Federal Capital Territory, Abuja ahead of next month’s 12th Women Africa Cup of Nations finals holding in Morocco.
July’s colourful houseparty in the North African kingdom is expected to generate greater media and global public interest than ever, with the exponential rise in the stature of women’s football helped by the tremendous gains of the last Women’s World Cup in France, robust deliberations on pay parity (with the men) and FIFA’s decision to hike the number of participating teams at next year’s Women’s World Cup finals to 32 – same as for the men’s World Cup.
Head Coach Randy Waldrum and assistants have the interesting challenge of quality and quantity of players – a useful blend of the old guard, talented youngsters from the home front and a number of skillful foreign-born stars who have been holding their own brilliantly.
As at Friday morning, there were 19 players in camp, including captain Onome Ebi, alongside goalkeepers Chiamaka Nnadozie and Tochukwu Oluehi, defenders Osinachi Ohale and Akudo Ogbonna, midfielders Rita Chikwelu and Rasheedat Ajibade, and forwards Francisca Ordega, Asisat Oshoala and Gift Monday.
US-based goalkeeper Yewande Balogun, defender Michelle Alozie and midfielders Amanda Mbadi and Toni Payne were being expected in camp on Friday.
Forwards Desire Oparanozie and Uchenna Kanu, as well as midfielder Regina Otu and US-based defender Nicole Payne will arrive in Abuja by the weekend. England –based defender Ashleigh Plumptre, midfielder Halimatu Ayinde and forwards Francisca Ordega, Vivian Ikechukwu and Ifeoma Onumonu are to join the squad in Morocco next week.
Nigeria, who have won nine of the 11 Women Africa Cup of Nations championships held so far, bundled out Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire in the qualifying series and will play South Africa, Botswana and Burundi in the group stages in Morocco. They go up against the Banyana Banyana in their first match at the Prince Heritier Moulay Hassan Stadium in Rabat on Monday, 4th July, before matches against Botswana (Thursday, 7th July) and Burundi (Sunday, 10th July) at the same venue.
All four semi-finalists at the tournament in Morocco will qualify to represent Africa at the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia/New Zealand in the summer of 2023.