Nine-woman Super Falcons quest to land a 10th Women’s Africa Cup of Nations title came to a painful end on Monday after the nine-time winners suffered an excruciating 5-4 penalties defeat to the Atlas Lionesses at the Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium packed with 42,500 fans in Rabat, Morocco, PUNCH Sports Extra reports.
The Falcons were reduced to nine women after Halimatu Ayinde and Rasheedat Ajibade were both sent off in the second half following clumsy tackles.
The win was the first ever for the Lionesses against the defending champions, after previously losing 8-0 at the 1998 edition of the WAFCON in Kaduna and 6-0 at the 2000 edition in South Africa to their foes.
A forced own goal from Yasmin Mrabet gave the Falcons the lead in the 62nd minute, but parity was restored when Sanaa Mssoudy fired in a shot from close range after the Falcons defence failed to clear their lines, with Chiamaka Nnadozie, in goal for the Falcons, spilling a cross from the right flank.
Ifeoma Onumonu then sent her effort straight at goalkeeper Khadija Er-Rmichi in the ensuing penalty shootout, the only play to miss her kick, to hand the hosts their biggest victory in women football.
Morocco will now play South Africa, who edged Zambia in the other last four clash, in the final.
The Falcons looked more lively but struggled to cope with the pace of the hosts.
Nicole Payne, who played on the right side of the Falcons’ defence, was the Falcons best player in the opening 10 minutes, dealing with pressure from the left wing of the Lionesses.
Despite the early pressure from the hosts, the Falcons took control of the game and exerted their authority, forcing the Lionesses back into defending.
Nigeria’s first chance came in the 12th minute as Ngozi Okobi’s long-range pass found Ifeoma Onumonu, whose tame shot was easily saved by the Moroccan goalkeeper.
The 28-year-old NY Gotham FC striker was gifted another chance in the 16th minute but failed to control the ball, giving the North Africans the chance to regroup and steal the ball from her.
Having been silenced for the first 25 minutes Rasheedat Ajibade came into the game with some brilliant moves.
The Atletico Madrid star found Uchenna Kanu but her header went straight into the arms of the hosts’ keeper.
Christy Ucheibe almost put the Falcons ahead in the 33rd minute after the Lionesses goalkeeper failed to clear her lines.
An enterprising and cagey opening half was brought to an end with the game goalless.
Just three minutes into the start of the second half, the Falcons were reduced to 10 players after Halimatu Ayinde was shown a straight red card after a VAR review.
The Lionesses took advantage of their numerical advantage and piled on the pressure on Falcons defence, forcing Randy Waldrum’s side into making numerous mistakes.
Morocco almost broke the deadlock in the 55th minute but Ashley Plumptre blocked a goal bound shot from going in.
Nigeria then took the lead in the 62nd minute, after Kanu forced defender Yasmin Mrabet into scoring an own goal off a thumping header from Onumonu.
The hosts restored parity four minutes after Chiamaka Nnadozie’s sloppy touch fell to the path of Sanaa Mssoudy who equalised with aplomb.