By Victor Kanayo
Nigeria and Ethiopia on Wednesday shared spoils in the first leg contest of the 2024 Olympics qualifier in Addis Ababa.
Both senior women national teams put up a hard-fought battle with the game ending 1-1 to set up an interesting return leg in Abuja on Tuesday next week.
Captain of Nigeria’s Super Falcons Rasheedat Ajibade’s scorching shot from the edge of the box, six minutes after the restart, restored parity at the Abebe Bikila Stadium, after the Ethiopian girls had surprisingly taken the lead in the 6th minute of play as Birkie Amare made hay from a corner kick.
It was a match that Nigerian football star Asisat Oshoala playing a top striker role, failed to shine.
That was despite steady supply of Uchenna Kanu and Gift Monday who operated from the wings, with Michelle Alozie who switched to left back to allow Nicole Payne take charge at right back.
Oluwatosin Demehin and Akudo Ogbonna took control at the centre of the defence, and with Christy Ucheibe and Halimatu Ayinde unavailable, Peace Efih joined Toni Payne and Ajibade to string things together in the middle.
Both teams found it hard to create many opportunities in a tight first period, though Asisat Oshoala should have done better with an opportunity from Payne’s cross halfway into the period.
After Ajibade restored parity, the Falcons took full control, and substitute Ifeoma Onumonu should have put Nigeria in the lead in the 64th minute, only to be denied as she cocked the trigger.
Payne and Onumonu combined to create a gilt-edged opportunity in the 79th minute, but once more Oshoala failed to make hay.
The Falcons thought they had won it when Onumonu towered above all to head into the net on the dot of time. However, Algerian referee Lamia Atman spotted foul play in the build-up.
Both teams will clash again at the MKO Abiola National Stadium, Abuja, on Tuesday, October 31, with the winner on aggregate to proceed to the third round, where the winner of the Cameroon/Uganda fixture awaits.
Nigeria failed to feature in the last consecutive Olympics – Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020.