Nigeria star Francisca Ordega in her third season in USA’s NWSL
Played in front of a historic capacity crowd at last year's African continental final
Ordega says African women’s football will "grow rapidly in the next few years"
On 3 December last year, something extraordinary happened. Fans started arriving at the Stade Ahmadou Ahidjo in Yaounde a few hours before dawn for a match with a mid-afternoon start. The stadium was effectively at its 40,000 capacity a full five hours before kick-off. The match in question was the final of the CAF Africa Women Cup of Nations. It is a moment that will surely go down as a milestone event for African women’s football.
Local hopes of a maiden title were, however, dashed as favourites Nigeria earned a 1-0 triumph. A few months on and Nigeria forward Francesca Ordega still gets shivers of excitement when the topic turns to that continental decider.
“This crowd was something else,” an animated Ordega told FIFA.com. “Even for men, you don’t often see that kind of support. The place was crazy that day, people couldn’t even get into the stadium. This was really something else, truly amazing.
“I was very happy that we won in front of all the Lionesses fans. It is a different feeling altogether. Playing against Cameroon was really tough. They are a great team, and everyone in Cameroon was supporting them. But we had a lot of professionals in our team, and we were able to count on that experience. Also having a female coach (Florence Omagbemi) and female technical crew ... the feeling was somehow different.”
Not that Ordega is inexperienced in the ways of world football. At just 23, Ordega has already featured in four FIFA competitions, and played in five countries – Russia, Sweden, USA, Australia and Nigeria. Also, she has just started a third season at Washington Spirit, a largely unheralded side who took the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) by storm last term before fading to finish second.
Africa’s bright new dawn
That win in Yaounde was a tenth continental victory for Nigeria, with the Super Falcons record spoilt only by two wins for Equatorial Guinea. While Nigeria have long had it their own way, the spread of talent at the recent continental championship is evidence of a rapidly-changing environment on the Mother Continent.
Ordega says she has seen significant change during her relatively short career. “The first time I played against Cameroon, it was like playing against babies, we were just toying with them and taking them for granted,” she said.
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