Can Ikhana Conquer Africa Again?

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The name, Kadiri Ikhana, may not ring a bell in  female football circles but to an avid follower of football in Nigeria and on the African continent, it is an established name, having conquered Africa with Enyimba F C at the Confederation of African Football, CAF Champions League.

Ikhana was a member of the Green Eagles squad that won the 1980 African Cup of Nations and represented Nigeria at the 1980 Summer Olympic Games; and when the African Women’s Championship, AWC, kicks off this weekend in Equatorial Guinea all eyes would be on him.

Ikhana would attract much of the attention because he would be at the sidelines dishing out instructions to the Super Falcons, who are the defending champions of the AWC, having won it for a record six times.

Female football to Ikhana may not be a familiar terrain but he believes there is nothing special in female football. “There are no special skills in coaching a female team, there is really not much difference in male and female football, they are governed by the same rules and regulations,” he says.

The likes of Paul Hamilton and Godwin Izilien made a success of their stints with the Super Falcons despite lacking previous experience in women’s football.

Having made his mark as a soccer tactician in Nigeria, Ikhana’s mettle will now be put to test in Equatorial Guinea knowing that his job is on the line if he fails to successfully defend the trophy won by his predecessor, Uche Eucharia.

Eucharia was shown the way out despite reclaiming the coveted trophy from 2008 champions, Equatorial Guinea. That definitely would put Ikhana on his toes, knowing that any slip may cost him his job.

Ikhana has tinkered a number of teams in the Nigeria Premier League, NPL, but the AWC would be a litmus test as other countries are catching up with Nigeria, but Ikhana in an interview shortly after his appointment as coach of the team, said he is prepared to defend the title.

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With a monthly take home of N2.5 million (about $16,000), Ikhana knows the NFF will not entertain any excuse from him, after getting the support of the NFF in preparing the team adequately for the title defence. “I can assure you that the Falcons will be back dominating African football as was the case before,” he assured.

Ikhana has the artillery that can help him conquer Africa and qualify for the 2015 World Cup scheduled for Canada but he has to be mindful of the threat of the Banyana Banyana of South Africa, Lionesses of Cameroon and other emerging female football countries.

The arsenals at Ikhana’s disposal no doubt should send shivers down the spines of any team. He, however, is of the view that the ingredient he needs to conquer Africa and the world is discipline and the ability of his players. As he puts it: “All I have got to do is instil discipline in the team and ensure they are fit and play according to instructions”.

With a potent striker like Desire Oparanoize ruled out of the tourney because her club refused to let her join up with the Falcons, who are currently camping at the El Wak Stadium, Accra, Ghana, Ikhana could find it hard conquering Africa but he can also take solace in the ability Perpetua Nkwocha, who happens to be an AWC veteran.

After playing series of friendly matches Ikhana believes his wards are still work in the making. After playing their last friendly game, against Immigration Ladies of Accra which they won 3-0 on Sunday he said: “It was a good game and the team was a good test for us.

“I saw some errors so we have to go back and work on those areas to perfect our team. However, I am happy with the result, the team created numerous chances in 90 minutes but converted only three.

“We created 17 chances and only converted three. That’s not good enough. We have to take our chances and we’ll work on it,” he added.

—ADEBOBOLA ALAWODE

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