Tochuckwu Oluehi: Su­per Fal­cons’ Messiah

THISDAY - - GLOBAL SOCCER -

The Su­per Fal­cons of Nige­ria last Satur­day suc­cess­fully de­fended the Africa Women Cup of Nations ti­tle, win­ning the tour­na­ment for the ninth time. How­ever, the vic­tory did not come on a plat­ter of gold as they had to de­pend on the hero­ics of goal­keeper Tochuckwu Oluehi in both the semi­fi­nals and fi­nals matches in which she stopped two penal­ties against Cameroon and South Africa re­spec­tively. Lit­tle won­der she was voted the best goal­keeper of the com­pe­ti­tion and also listed in Africa’s best XI

The Su­per Fal­cons goal­keeper, Tochuckwu Oluehi, was the hero in the semi­fi­nals of the Africa Women Cup of Nations against Cameroon and the fi­nals against South Africa as her penalty saves were what counted for the cham­pi­ons when it mat­tered most. In an in­ter­view af­ter her hero­ics in the semi­fi­nals against Cameroon, Oluehi said she felt “per­fect” when play­ing the su­perb role in Nige­ria’s 4-2 win.

“Even if I didn’t touch the sec­ond one but I dived in the right di­rec­tion, so it’s a thing of joy for me. We prac­ticed it only once but for me, it’s a gift. I know how to save penal­ties when it comes to that. I know if my play­ers can put the ball in the net, ev­ery­thing will be on me to save the penal­ties and I did that, so, I am very happy help­ing my team. The semi-fi­nal match against Cameroon was our tough­est match since we started this com­pe­ti­tion, but thank God we won at the end of the day,” she said.

“I feel great but my de­fend­ers have been awe­some. They’ve been good cover­ing up for me in the sense that that much pres­sure hasn’t been on my side for me to con­cede any goal. They’ve been so good in the de­fence that’s just it.”

The Su­per Fal­cons first-choice goal­keeper who af­ter the semi-fi­nal with Cameroon had ap­pealed for more sup­port from Nige­ri­ans in or­der to help the squad win the fi­nal against South Africa, said she was happy be­ing Nige­ria’s hero on the evening in Ac­cra, Ghana, adding that the big­gest thing on her mind now was how the Fal­cons would win their ninth ti­tle.

The Rivers An­gels of Port Har­court shot-stop­per also ex­pressed de­light with the FIFA Women’s World Cup ticket achieved with the win against Cameroon, and said they want to be in France as African cham­pi­ons.

“We want Nige­ri­ans to con­tinue to sup­port the team. Once we get to­tal sup­port from the fans, we will not dis­ap­point Nige­ri­ans. We want to beat South Africa on Satur­day, so that we can go to the World Cup in France as cham­pi­ons of Africa, and make Nige­ri­ans glad,” Oluehi had said then.

Be­fore last Satur­day’s en­counter against the Banyana Banyana, Oluehi said they would tackle the match with the mind­set of aveng­ing that painful de­feat.

“Meet­ing South Africa in the fi­nal is what we have been pray­ing for be­cause we want to play them again. We want to tell them that win­ning against us in the group stage was a mis­take and it’s not go­ing to hap­pen again. I’m sure we will beat them in the fi­nal,” said Oluehi.

“This is what we’ve been pray­ing for. We want to show them that beat­ing us in the group stage was just a mis­take. I am happy that we are meet­ing Bayana Bayana in the fi­nals. It is an op­por­tu­nity for us to show the world that the first match we lost 1-0

to them in the group stage was due to an er­ror which we have to cor­rect,” she con­tin­ued.

How­ever, Oluehi’s art at sav­ing spot kicks did not start with the 2018 AW­CON in Ghana, fol­low­ers of the Nige­rian Women Premier League (NWPL) must have at one time or the other wit­nessed a penalty-sav­ing per­for­mance from the 31-year-old goal­keeper.

Dur­ing last year’s AI­TEO Cup quar­ter-fi­nal be­tween Rivers An­gels and Edo Queens, the two teams were in­sep­a­ra­ble over two legs in the quar­ter-fi­nal games of Nige­ria’s Cup com­pe­ti­tion, hav­ing played goal­less in Port Har­court and Benin re­spec­tively, Oluehi then came to her team’s res­cue, sav­ing the hosts’ first two spot kicks with the third fired wide. Her team, Rivers An­gels won 3-0 on penal­ties.

In the AI­TEO Cup fi­nal against Ibom An­gels, Oluehi also saved two spot­kicks as de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons Rivers An­gels de­feated neigh­bours 3-0 on penal­ties to win the AI­TEO Cup in Jos af­ter both teams had fought out a 1-1 draw in reg­u­la­tion time.

Oluehi’s ex­per­tise at sav­ing penal­ties also came to the fore again in the NWFL Cham­pi­ons Shield ear­lier this year as her two penalty saves en­sured that Rivers An­gels de­feated Nasarawa Ama­zons 4-3 to en­sure her side was crowned cham­pi­ons of the 2018 NWFL Cham­pi­ons Shield.

Prov­ing it against Cameroon and South Africa at Ghana’s AW­CON has proved be­yond rea­son­able doubt that stop­ping penalty kicks by Oluehi is never a fluke but rather an art.

It, there­fore, came as no sur­prise that the Su­per Fal­cons safe hand was voted the best goal­keeper at AW­CON 2018 and is also one of only two Nige­ri­ans that made the tour­na­ment’s Best XI list.

In 2014, Oluehi as Su­per Fal­cons sec­ond choice goal­keeper departed Nige­ria for the United Arab Emi­rate (UAE), to sign for Al-Wahda FC of Abu Dhabi, a move the team’s me­dia of­fi­cer, Gra­cious Aku­jobi, be­lieve would be of im­mense ben­e­fit to the Su­per Fal­cons as it strives to for­tify its goal­keep­ing po­si­tion ahead of in­ter­na­tional en­gage­ments.

Mean­while, the nine-time cham­pi­ons of AW­CON will to­day know their 2019 FIFA Women World Cup op­po­nents with the draw billed to hold in France. Hav­ing dom­i­nated the African con­ti­nent, Nige­rian foot­ball fans are hop­ing that Su­per Fal­cons will put up a good show­ing in the France 2019 edi­tion.

With all Con­fed­er­a­tions qual­i­fy­ing se­ries de­cided, play­ers and coaches are anx­iously look­ing for­ward to know­ing their group op­po­nents and which cities in France they would be play­ing, when the tour­na­ment kicks off in June 2019.

It would be the eighth edi­tion of the FIFA Women World Cup which be­gan in 1991 and Nige­ria have made it a birthright to be present in all tour­na­ments. Nige­ria posted her best per­for­mance so far in the tour­na­ment in 1999 reach­ing the quar­ter-fi­nal be­fore los­ing to Brazil 4-3.

Mean­while, the Nige­ria Foot­ball Fed­er­a­tion Pres­i­dent Amaju Pin­nick has vowed to give the Su­per Fal­cons all the de­served at­ten­tion to en­sure they pre­pare ad­e­quately for the FIFA Women World Cup next year in France.

“The NFF will look for the re­sources to give the team solid prepa­ra­tion. At France 2019, we will make a big im­pact at the FIFA World Cup and not sim­ply go there to make up the num­ber,” Pin­nick promised.

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