Amarachi Okoronkwo was the heroine for Nigeria as the Nasarawa Amazons midfielder scored the only goal on Wednesday to help the Super Falcons secure a vital 1-0 away victory over Gambia in the 2018 African Women’s Cup of Nations qualifier.
The Gambians showed no respect for the African champions as they took the game to the Falcons right from the blast of the whistle at the Independence Stadium in Bakau.
Coach Thomas Dennerby fielded a full strength against the West Africans, who eliminated Burkina Faso’s senior girls to reach the final round of the qualifying race.
The Nasarawa Amazons midfielder curled in a superb effort from 23 yards to give the eight-time African champions the lead.
Penda Bah headed wide a good opportunity for Gambia off a brilliant cross as Nigeria escaped conceding an early goal in the 8th minute.
Reigning African footballer of the Year, Asisat Oshoala teed up Francisca Ordega with a fine header but the latter’s effort went inches wide from range.
Okoronkwo made her presence felt when her thunderous strike in the 19th minute left goalkeeper Aminata Gaye sprawling.
Big striker Desire Oparanozie attempted a well crafted header but it was saved by Gaye.
The game was balanced with the Super Falcons showing a lot of movement while the Gambians looked dangerous on the break with the defence containing their threat.
Ordega missed an easy chance as the first half ended 1-0 in favour of Nigeria.
The Falcons continued from where they stopped in the second half pushing forward in numbers and playing with confidence.
Anam Imo rose above her marker for a header off Oshoala’s right wing cross but the busy Gaye made an easy save of her effort.
On the hour mark, Gambia tried to force a leveler. Penda Bah sent an ambitious strike on target but goalkeeper Tochukwu Oluehi made an easy meal of the ball.
The combination of Oshoala and Imo was frightening. The former Arsenal Ladies striker showed great strength to beat her marker before sending a brilliant cross to Imo whose well placed goal was ruled out for offside. It was a routine team move.
The two teams will clash in the second and final leg of the qualifying series at the Agege Stadium, Lagos on Monday 11th June.
Super Falcons XI: Tochukwu Oluehi, Faith Michael, Ngozi Ebere, Onome Ebi, Glory Ogbonna, Amarachi Okoronkwo, Halimatu Ayinde, Francisca Ordega, Asisat Oshoala (Ngozi Okobi 71′), Desire Oparanozie, Anam Imo (Chinaza Uchendu 71′)
Subs Not Used: Alaba Jonathan, Joy Jegede, Christy Ucheibe, Esther Sunday, Osarenoma Igbinovia