WAFCON is a ‘birth-right’ for holders Nigeria, says Ngozi Okobi-Okeoghene

Christy Ucheibe celebrates her goal for Nigeria
Nigeria have won the past three WAFCON titles and are record nine-time continental champions

Nigeria midfielder Ngozi Okobi-Okeoghene says the weight of history meant the record nine-time Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (WAFCON) winners had to get their finals campaign back on track.

The Super Falcons outclassed a stubborn Botswana side 2-0 on Thursday to claim their first Group C victory in Morocco.

“We needed to come back because, for us, this [tournament] is our birth-right or something, “Okobi-Okeoghene told BBC Sport Africa.

“We can’t just afford to lose this whole thing just like that.

“We came here for the trophy, and not just the trophy but to qualify for the World Cup as well.”

Holders Nigeria were without injured star forward Asisat Oshoala, who has been ruled out of the tournament, and needed goals in either half from Ifeoma Onumonu and Christy Ucheibe to secure their first points in Group C.

The Nigerians had been defeated 2-1 in their opening game by South Africa and Sweden-based Okobi-Okeoghene knows the side have room for improvement.

“Losing the first game was not really the best thing for us,” the 28-year-old added.

“Africa, when it comes to women’s football, has really grown. Everyone wants to beat Nigeria so we have to work extra. We still have to work more, especially on our finishing.”

Randy Waldrum’s under-fire side are now second in Group C, three points behind Banyana Banyana after two games.

After putting in a much-improved display against Botswana, American coach Waldrum defended his ageing squad following local media criticism aimed at his tactics and recent performances.

“The media in Nigeria is very negative. We don’t want distraction in our team,” he said.

“Of course, we are trying to qualify for the World Cup and the team must be isolated [from media pressure]. “

Meanwhile, the Senegal squad has been hit by a Covid-19 outbreak ahead of their final group game against hosts Morocco on Friday.

Players Coumba Sylla Mbodji, Anta Dembele and Nguenar Ndiaye and three medical staff have moved into quarantine after returning positive test on Thursday.

Both Morocco and Senegal have already sealed quarter-final spots, but will battle for top spot in Group A and a last-eight tie against a third-placed side.

Banyana fly into the last eight

Linda Motlhalo (center) celebrates her goal against Burundi
Linda Motlhalo was on the scoresheet against Burundi for the 2018 runners-up South Africa

Meanwhile, high-flying South Africa are staying “smart” after their 3-1 win over 10-woman Burundi to become the third team to reach the WAFCON quarter-finals.

Thembi Kgatlana was among the scorers, and says four-time runners-up Banyana Banyana are managing their squad in order to go deep in the tournament.

“You have to understand that we played a very tough game against Nigeria physically, and the coaches tried to change the squad.” Kgatlana told BBC Sport Africa.

“You have to plan properly on how you’re going to get to the final. It’s not going to be an easy journey – it’s a long way.

“Yes, everyone wants to win. That’s why we came to this tournament. But at the end of the day as a South African team, we’re going for one match at a time and that’s going to be important for us mentally and emotionally.

“We only have two days to recover, you must be smart too. You also have injuries that you must deal with.”

It took 20 minutes for Kgatlana, the top scorer at WAFCON four years ago in Ghana, to score her first of the 2022 finals but Aniella Uwimana smashed home from close range on the half-hour mark to level for Burundi.

Two minutes later, Amogelang Motau restored South Africa’s lead, but they fail to put away the debutants after missing a host of chances.

Jermaine Seoposenwe failed to convert a first-half penalty before Kgatlana fluffed several scoring chances after the break, including a shock miss after rounding goalkeeper Jeanine Irakoze.

Lively Kgatlana was fouled in the box and Linda Motlhalo slotted in from the penalty spot in the 53rd minute for the 2018 runners-up, and Burundi substitute Annociate Nshimirimana was then sent off in the 73rd minute.

South Africa face local rivals Botswana in their final group game on Sunday while Burundi conclude their campaign against Nigeria.

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