Super Falcons and the 16-year jinx

Super Falcons and the 16-year jinx
Photo by Icon Sport

The first football event for women at the Summer Olympics was in 1996, with the Super Falcons representing Africa for the first time in 2000.

There are plenty of tales about the game in Africa, but it would be incomplete without the Super Falcons, who have been the most dominant side on the continent.

Amid the qualification series for the 2024 Paris Olympics, the Super Falcons booked their ticket after a long layoff, which has gotten tongues wagging again.

It was not an easy ride, but the most successful women's national team on the continent beat all before them, culminating in a pulsating 0-0 draw with Banyana Banyana in South Africa.

On this momentous occasion that stretches back 16 years, let us regale you with the long road through the wilderness, back to the Congress of Women's Football Elite.

Super Falcons: Breaking a 16-year jinx

Rasheedat Ajibade breaking the jinx for Super Falcons
Photo by Icon Sport

The signs were ominous on a cool evening in South Africa as the contest for a ticket to the 2024 Paris Olympics women's event was on.

As Randy Waldrum's girls were sweating it out with their South African opponents, Nigerians were deep in prayer, hoping that what seemed to be a hex over the team would be broken.

After appearing at the Olympics three times in a row, from 2000 to 2008, the emergence of new heavyweights in Africa meant that Nigeria would start labouring for its medals.

Teams like Equatorial Guinea, South Africa, Ghana and Cameroon became Nigeria's biggest challengers.

When Randy Waldrum took over the coaching position of the Super Falcons, he job understood that the days when the team swooped over opponents with swagger were over.

He re-engineered the team to fit with its new realities, much to the distaste of its many fans.

The re-engineering of the team saw Waldrum lead them to a fourth-place finish at WAFCON 2022. Everything came full cycle in 2023. The Super Falcons have not been beaten in regulation time since 2023.

The only team that beat the Nigerian side was the Three Lionesses, and they needed a penalty shootout to do it.

In the race to Paris, Nigeria beat Ethiopia 5-1 on aggregate (conceding their only goal). They also beat Cameroon and South Africa 1-0 on aggregate to book a place at the Olympics to break the jinx.

16 years in the wilderness

Super Falcons goalmouth action - Chiamaka Nnadozie
Photo by Icon Sport

After the Super Falcons appeared at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where they failed to pick any point in a group comprising Brazil, Germany and North Korea, they started their long journey in the wilderness.

They failed to qualify for the 2012 edition, falling at the last hurdle to the Indomitable Lionesses of Cameroon.

The Super Falcons won 2-1 at home and lost by the same scoreline away before being booted out 4-3 via penalties.

For the 2016 edition, Nigeria started their campaign with a walkover over Mali in the second round, but their woes continued in the next round.

Against their arch-nemesis Equatorial Guinea, the Super Falcons played 1-1 at home but crashed out in the return leg after the game went to extra time.

In 2020, Nigeria again failed to make it to the Olympics. After drawing a bye in the first round, they beat Algeria 3-0 on aggregate to book a date with Ivory Coast.

The Ivorians would pose the next headache for Nigeria. Ivory Coast knocked out the Super Falcons in the third round. Thanks to the away goal rule, which came after a 1-1 draw in Nigeria and a 0-0 draw in Ivory Coast.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic ensured that the Olympics failed to take place in 2020. The event took place in 2021.

Kudos to Randy Waldrum

Super Falcons coach Randy Waldrum
Photo by Icon Sport

Under Waldrum, the Super Falcons have improved tactically and have shown they can hold their own against the best opposition in the world.

The approach may not be pretty, but the results are something to cheer.

Waldrum has to consolidate the present situation and lead the team to the next level.

The best Super Falcons achievement at the Olympics was their 2004 quarter-final finish. It is the target for Waldrum to supersede.

This article was most recently revised and updated 1 month ago

Chooka Izuegbuna is a Sports Journalist with 20 years of experience in print, TV and Radio. He has worked with some of the top media houses in Nigeria, including NTA Network, Channels TV, TVC, Silverbird TV and MITV. Chooka broke his sports reporting teeth with The Game Football Weekly in 2003 as a cartoonist and reporter. Chooka has a passion for football and has been a fan of Enugu Rangers (over 30 years) and Real Madrid (Since 1996).