Nigeria's Africa Women Cup of Nations win shows interest is on the up
Nigeria's women claimed their eighth African Nations Cup title with a 1-0 win over Cameroon over the weekend.
Here are five thoughts from the tournament:
1. Omagbemi, Ellis point the way forward for women
Florence Omagbemi became only the second woman to lead a team to victory in 10 editions of the African Women Nations Cup. The first to do so was her compatriot and former teammate Uche Eucharia in 2010.
Omagbemi and South Africa's Desiree Ellis may have been the only two women coaches out of the eight at the tournament, but their appointments -- by two of the continent's female football powerhouses -- sends a strong message to other federations.
Incidentally, both women also worked with assistants who are also former internationals. Omagbemi with Ann Chiejine and Perpetua Nkwocha, and Ellis with Maud Khumalo and Sheryl Botes.
With South Africa finishing in fourth place, that is two of the top four places picked up by female coaches.
"It's a good sign," Omagbemi said. "When you have the women's game and you have former players taking charge of the national team is a good thing for Africa because other continents are doing the same and are being successful with it."
The hope is that more African countries will trust their ex-internationals with managing their women's national teams.
2. Gaining support
Both venues hosting the games featured record turnouts -- no previous edition of the tournament has seen more fans.
Only two previous tournaments came close in terms of numbers: the inaugural championship in the Nigerian city of Kaduna in 1998, and the 2002 edition in Warri, also in Nigeria. But Cameroon blew both out of the water. For the final game, the 40,000 capacity Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium started filling up as early as 5 a.m. for a 3.30 p.m. game. Five hours ahead of kickoff, the stadium was already packed to the rafters.
The 20,000-capacity Limbe Stadium regularly saw unexpectedly large turnouts even without Cameroon playing there.
It is a sign of the growing interest in the women's game across the continent, and Cameroon especially, which might explain the heaving tears from both players and fans at the end.
3. Nigeria: A victory in adversity
Nigerian teams just don't know how to go for a tournament without loading up some financial baggage along with everything else. But, as "pressure makes diamonds harder than stone," Nigeria's national teams seem to thrive in adversity.
At least the women did not arrive within a few hours of their opening game. But they had their own trouble. By December, it will be eight months since coach Omagbemi and her staff were last paid.
The players are still owed winning bonuses for a game they played in April. The Nigeria federation say it's out of their hands as they're largely dependent on the government for financing and while the money has been approved, it's yet to make its way to them.
AMAZING.- Gary Al-Smith (@garyalsmith) December 3, 2016
5 hours to kickoff of Women's African Cup final: Cameroon v Nigeria. Venue: Yaounde.
Look. At. That. Crowd.
KO: 1430GMT pic.twitter.com/aqsGlhDxk6
4. Newbies show grit
Kenya, Egypt and Mali showed just how much progress women's football is making on the continent. The Kenyans were a late goal and dubious penalty away from claiming a win against Ghana's mighty Black Queens.
Egypt had little such trouble in dispatching of Zimbabwe. Mali, unlucky to take a pasting from Nigeria in the opening game, bounced back and were this close to advancing.
5. The best team doesn't always win
Nigeria may have been the defending champions, but they went into the final against Cameroon as the decided underdogs.
The hosts were playing great football, and had not conceded in their run to the final. Plus, long-serving president Paul Biya was in the stands flanked by his wife and cabinet ministers along with CAF President Issa Hayatou. Each player was also promised 22 million central african francs each if they won the trophy.
Surely, nothing could go wrong.
Everything did. Nigeria, disorganized and broke, could make no promises to their players except to evoke patriotism. In the end, Desire Oparanozie's strike proved the difference, almost certainly triggering collective cardiac arrests among millions in Cameroon.
Colin Udoh is a Nigeria football correspondent for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @ColinUdoh.