THE Falcons can easily hold the record for continental dominance in female football. They have won six of the seven titles contested in the African Women’s Championship — losing only one final in 2008 to Equatorial Guinea, the team they dominated in Sunday’s final in South Africa.

Nigeria’s Falcons are the only team in Africa to have qualified for all the finals since the competition had its humble beginning in Abeokuta in 1998 and the only team that played in every final.

The 4-2 defeat was a strong statement about the return of the Falcons to the driver’s seat in the continent’s football and a revenge of the 2008 loss to Equatorial Guinea. The team won the Cup and the Fair Play trophy, in addition to prizes that individual players picked.

Perpetua Nkwocha was the highest scorer. Stella Mbachu was the Player of the Tournament. It could not have been different for a team that showed a lot of determination, did not take any opponent for granted and played in a manner that showed each game was considered important.

The records continued. Eucharia Uche, for many years team captain, fulfilled her ambition of being the first African woman to play in the championship and coach a team to win the championship. She had declared this hope at the commencement of the competition.

Why have the Falcons been able to dominate the continent this way when the men last won the African Nations Cup (the men’s version of this competition) in 1994? Are there things that the men’s team can learn from the Falcons? Will they learn?

The reasons could be from the fact that the women are more focused as they are assuming more responsibilities in their families. Sports are providing avenues for them to meet these responsibilities.

Team places in women’s football are also more competitive than in the men’s game. With the exception of the teams in the earlier days of the game, when there were challenges with getting more women to embrace the game, there are many young players who are ready to give the older ones a run for the shirts in the various teams.

Successes of the female teams have created players, who see their predecessors as role models and are taking to the game in their numbers. This can be seen in the successes of the younger teams and the ease with which these players fit into the older teams.

In the men’s game, there is hardly any transition from the age grade competitions to the Eagles, leaving a vacuum that ensures the older players, some obviously too old to remain in the Eagles, are guaranteed places.

The uncelebrated successes of the female teams that have seen them in a quarter-final place at the 2004 Olympic Games, their first Olympics was in 2000, a final place in the FIFA U-20 World Cup and another quarter-final spot in the U-17 competition, have all opened up vistas for the women’s game that the men can only dream about.

Our winning team in South Africa was a mixture of experienced players, who are most likely to end their careers after the 2011 FIFA Women’s Championship in Germany and the younger players, who are emerging from the FIFA age group competitions. It was a mixture of youth and experience and it was combined so well that the result justified the decision.

Part of the difficulty that the men’s team has in this regard is that most of the players in the age grade competition are past their peak, and cannot be available for service beyond that level of competition.

The other is that there is too much interference with the work of coaches in the men’s team as external influences try to get spaces for players in order to improve their chances of starting a career abroad.

What works for the Falcons can work for the men’s team if the management departs from excuses and face the fact that Nigeria’s senior national team is not competitive and is possibly the only team in the world, where more than half the spaces are reserved for unfit players, whose only qualification is their long years of service to the team.

Nigerian women are the clear leaders in most of the sports, where they have the opportunity to compete. They are just not given enough credit for their results under all guises, including claims that the women’s category of competitions is not as strong as the men’s.

Even in the Commonwealth Games that was just concluded in New Delhi last month, the women won most of Nigeria’s medals. When Nigeria, for the first finished first at the All Africa Games in 2003, medals from the women competitors exceeded the contributions from the men.

The fact that the Falcons are tops again raises new concerns about making the team tops in the world. Nigeria has been competing in the FIFA Women’s World Cup since the first edition in China 19 years ago. The best performances wre in 1999 and 2003 when quarter-final places were secured at the Olympic Games. Nigeria is yet to break into the last four.

Will these Falcons be the ones to make that difference? As Nigerians congratulate them for regaining their dominance of Africa, they want to see the team take on the world with better results in Germany.

It is the only way to stretch the celebration and the proper arrival of the female game, the Nigerian version, on the world stage.

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