Nigeria bounced back from their disappointing Women’s African Cup of Nations loss against South Africa with a solid performance against Botswana.
The 2-0 result leaves the champions on track to finish second in Group C.
Improved Nigeria get it right
Having lost Asisat Oshoala in their first match of the tournament, Randy Waldrum was under increasing pressure back home and needed to get the result. He will be pleased that the changes he made brought about a much more controlled performance against Botswana.
Francisca Ordega and Ngozi Okobi were the catalysts in the improved performance. Okobi brought a dominance in the midfield that was desperately lacking against South Africa. And, with Ordega playing on the wing, she brought a maturity to the attack of the Super Falcons.
The introduction of Ordega also allowed for Ifeoma Onumonu to play through the middle of the attack, a position she is clearly more comfortable in.
The Gotham FC forward struggled to find space and play a role in the build up against South Africa. But as a centre-forward, she was at her best, making runs in the channels as well as pulling wide to open up space for her teammates.
The performance was still not stellar. Until the Botswanans tired later in the match, the nine-time champions struggled to create clear cut chances from open play. Against a stubborn deep block from the Mares, they relied on set pieces to create their best chances. This included their second goal from Christy Ucheibe.
The Nigerians are still not out of the dark yet. A fiery press conference followed the game where coach Waldrum had a back and forth with Nigerian journalists, accusing them of being overly negative. But the journalists shot back at his policy of not allowing press access to the players during the tournament.
That fraying relationship has clearly put a strain on Waldrum and his side will have to continue to impress if he wants to get the Nigerian fans onside, a task that history has proven to be very difficult indeed.
Botswana defend well but lack quality
The Mares showed against Burundi that they have some real weapons going forward as they scored some superb goals. But with a more conservative squad selected against the holders, Botswana struggled to get out of their own half and create chances.
The one exception was Refilwe Tholakele. The forward was excellent on the occasions when she got on the ball. She often was forced to drop deep to help out her team and take control of possession. But time and time again she bought fouls or evaded challenges to give her defence a respite.
She came close to scoring a whipped free-kick which drew a sharp save from Chiamaka Nnadozie. Minutes later in the first half, she rode a couple of challenges before drilling her shot down Nnadozie’s throat.
Both teams in need of positive results
Nigeria finish off the group against Burundi in a match that they will be expected to win convincingly. But they will look to South Africa’s performance to know that even a side ranked 130 places below them cannot be taken lightly.
Botswana are still on the hunt for the third-place ticket into the knockouts. Based on the other groups, a narrow loss to their neighbours would be enough to take the Mares through to a historic quarter-final spot.
Playing as the last match of the round they will know exactly what is required of them to get out of the group stage. However, they will want a positive result against their Cosafa rivals who they have drawn with twice in the last three years.
However, if they want a positive result they will have to play more positive football and not simply defend for 90 minutes as the did against Nigeria.
Bosija; Mogotsi, Otlhagile (c), Montsho, Mochawe, Thanda, Selebatso, Johannes, Mahlasela, Radiakanyo, Tholakele
Substitutes — Abueng, Gaofetoge, Sechane, Galekhutle
Nnadozie; Ohale, Ebi (c), Payne, Onumonu, Chikwelu, Okobi, Ajibade, Ordega, Ayinde, Alozie
Substitutes — Kanu, Ibiang, Gift, Chinonyerem, Ichiebe