Nigeria’s Super Falcons have been dethroned as African champions after a shady defeat to hosts Morocco on penalties 5-4 in their semifinal clash in Rabat at the ongoing WAFCON 2023.
Having seen rivals South Africa book a place in the final with a 1-0 win over Zambia, the Nigerian ladies were aiming to set up a rematch against the Banyana Banyana but they had to first navigate a semifinal clash against the hosts in front of a 45,000+ strong crowd. The Super Falcons had history on their side with two previous meetings against Morocco in the competition ending 6-0 and 8-0.
The Moroccans started the match on the front foot as they looked to press home their home advantage. The match settled down towards the midway point of the first half as the Super Falcons began to gain a foothold in the game. Both sides struggled to trouble each other with both goalkeepers largely untested in the first period.
The first piece of drama that the match threw up came only two minutes into the second half when Nigeria midfielder Halimatu Ayinde was shown a straight red card for a stamp after a VAR intervention. Even with a player down, the Falcons continued to pose a threat to the Atlas Lionesses and were duly rewarded shortly after.
The impressive Rasheedat Ajibade made a brilliant run down the right flank before crossing in for striker Ifeoma Onumonu whose header came back off the upright. In her bid to take the ball away from the advancing Uchenna Kanu, Moroccan defender Yasmine Mrabet sent the ball into her own net in the 62nd minute.
It took only four minutes for the Super Falcons to unravel and gift the Moroccans a way back into the game. Dependable goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie spilled a cross, allowing Moroccan forward Sanaa Mssoudy to shoot into the back of the net to draw her side level.
The Super Falcons were reduced to nine players following another VAR review for a foul by Ajibade, leaving the Nigerians with an impossible task from the 70th minute.
It became became game of attack vs defence as the Atlas Lionesses tried every trick in the book to breach the Falcons’ rearguard, but goalkeeper Nnadozie was equal to all of their efforts as the game went to extra-time.
The case in extra-time was very much the same, with Morocco asking all the questions and Nigeria defending for their lives. In the second half of extra-time, however, the Super Falcons came within inches of securing a famous smash and grab win when young Rivers Angels forward Gift Monday struck the crossbar with a fierce shot in the 111th minute. Neither side could score a winner and so both sides were forced to go to a shootout.
Both sides scored their first penalty before Super Falcons striker Onumonu sent a tame effort straight to the Moroccan goalkeeper. The Atlas Lionesses scored all of their penalties to progress to the final for the first time in their history.
Morocco will face South Africa in the final of the competition as both teams hope to win their first WAFCON crown ever.