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“Just believe! We are already at Paris 2024”, Ajibade tells Nigerians

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Rasheedat Ajibade escaped to Banyana defender in Abuja on Friday.

Captain Rasheedat Ajibade has called on Nigerians to have confidence in the ability of the Super Falcons to earn a ticket to the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament in France, as the team flies to South Africa on Sunday night for a flaming battle with the Banyana Banyana in Pretoria on Tuesday night.

Ajibade’s strike from the penalty spot earned Nigeria a lone-goal victory over the visitors in the first leg in Abuja on Friday, and even as there is all to play for in the return in South Africa’s administrative capital, the Atletico Madrid ace says the players will be propelled to victory knowing that the faith of over 200 million Nigerians in them is unwavering.

“We are not under any illusions. It is going to be a big and tough fight. For us, we have 90 minutes standing between us and the long-elusive ticket to the Olympics and we will give it our all.

“We want Nigerians to believe in the Super Falcons. The players are motivated by the keen desire to play in the Olympics. Personally, I have played at every tournament you can think of, except the Olympics. The time to do it is now.”

The players trained in the premises of their hotel on Saturday morning and also trained at the MKO Abiola National Stadium on Sunday morning, before departing Abuja for Lagos aboard an Air Peace flight, to connect their flight to South Africa on Sunday Night.

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Nine-time African champions Nigeria will arrive in Johannesburg on Monday morning, and then do a one-hour road trip to Pretoria. They are scheduled to have the official training at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium by 7.30pm (6.30pm Nigeria time on Monday.

Chinwendu Ihezuo, Jennifer Echegini and Esther Okoronkwo had opportunities to add to the scoreline on Friday evening, goal Banyana Banyana goal-tender Kaylin Swart affirmed her reputation as one of the best goalkeepers in African women football with some brilliant saves.

Similarly, the Banyana must have realized and appreciated that the reputation of Nigeria’s number one, Chiamaka Nnadozie as one of the world’s best goalkeepers was no exaggeration, as she thwarted them the couple of times that they got past the defence. Jermaine Seoposenwe was particularly stunned by Nnadozie’s world-class save when she unleashed a belter from 20 yards after receiving a pass from Thembi Kgatlana. Kgatlana herself was foiled on a couple of occasions.

The Banyana celebrated the low deficit after Friday’s encounter, but Nnadozie said the Super Falcons will play their hearts out inside the 51,000-capacity Loftus Versfeld Stadium.

“The Super Falcons are used to big battles. This one will not be any different. Australia were playing in their home ground at the World Cup but we defeated them.”

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The goal-tender was referring to last year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup finals, when the Falcons edged the Matildas 3-2 in front of their home fans in Brisbane, and thus guaranteed a spot for themselves at the tournament’s Round of 16.

Nnadozie was also in goal when the Falcons overwhelmed hosts Cote d’Ivoire 1-0 in a Women Africa Cup of Nations final qualifying match in Abidjan more than two years ago, and has also been in goal in the two earlier away matches in these qualifying series, in which the Falcons earned a 1-1 draw in Addis Ababa and 0-0 draw in Douala.

Home turf advantage has severally been proved to be a mirage in football, even in the on-going qualifying series, with Zambia defeating Ghana in Accra, Morocco defeating Tunisia 2-1 away, South Africa trouncing Tanzania 3-0 in Dar es Salaam and Morocco also defeating Zambia 2-1 in Ndola in the first leg of their own final qualifying fixture on Friday.

Ajibade added: “At the end of the day, the grass will be green and it will be eleven players against eleven players. We are ready.”

The Confederation of African Football has again picked North African referees for the second leg match, with Tunisian Dorsaf Ganouati as referee and her compatriots Houda Afine and Emna Ajbouni as first assistant and fourth official respectively. Egyptian Yara Atef Saïd Abdelfattah will be second assistant referee.

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Agar Mezing from Cameroon will be the referee assessor while Cindy Dludlu from e-Swatini will be match commissioner.  

Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

Olympics

Nigeria picks another Paris 2024 slot in table tennis

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The number of Nigerian table tennis players heading to Paris 2024 Olympic Games increased to three after Fatimo Bello defeated Algeria’s Lynda Loghraibi 4-2 in the final of the second stage of the African Olympic Qualification Tournament at bK Arena in Kigali, Rwanda.

Bello failed to qualify through the first stage of qualifiers after losing 4-1 to Cameroon’s Sarah Hanffou but she returned stronger to win the sole slot in the second stage of qualifiers of the women’s singles.

Bello will join her compatriots – Olajide Omotayo and Offiong Edem to compete in the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

Also, Algeria’s Mehdi Bouloussa who missed out from the first stage of the qualifiers atone for his defeat to pick the last slot in the men’s singles of the qualification tournament.

The qualified players from Kigali qualifiers include Nigeria’s trio of Bello, Omotayo and Edem while Cameroon’s Sarah Haffou picked her tickets to third Olympics appearance while Fabio Rakotoarimanana became the first Madagascan table tennis player to qualify for the Olympic Games after picking the second slot in the first stage of the qualifiers. Mehdi Bouloussa of Algeria secured the final slot in the men’s singles.

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Bouloussa, who narrowly lost 3-4 to Wassim Essid of Tunisia in the quarterfinal round of the first stage, returned to winning ways to pick the final ticket in the men’s singles of the qualification tournament.

To win the second stage of the qualifiers, Bouloussa defeated Saheed Idowu of Congo Brazzaville. (16-14, 11-4, 11-8, 11-4) to pick his maiden ticket to the Olympic Games.

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Nigeria all set for Olympic Day celebrations

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"Engaging in exercises promotes health fitness" Popoola highlights. Pictured is Nigeria's Tobi Amusan in the women's hurdles in Tokyo. GETTY IMAGES

Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC) Secretary General Babatunde Popoola says the committee, in collaboration with the Nigeria Sport For All Commission, is set for the country’s 2024 edition of Olympic Day celebration on 29 June.

Olympic Day is an annual international event that takes place in the month of June that is aimed at people of all ages and abilities to experience the magic of the Olympic Games in their own communities. Popoola says the event highlights the benefits of physical activity and for people to learn about Olympic values and practise them in their everyday life.

“Engaging in exercises promotes health fitness for individuals; jogging and walking burns calories, tones muscles, shapes your body and helps de-stress the mind.” NOC’s Secretary General stated. 

“Olympic Day has always been celebrated by NOC with fanfare nationwide and this year’s programme will not be an exception as many states are already preparing to organise the programme. 

“The states that have so far registered to participate are Anambra, Gombe, Taraba, Bayelsa, Imo, and Ondo, while others are still being expected to indicate their interest in the programme,” he continued.

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Opeyori becomes Nigeria’s first back-to-back qualifier as Badminton Olympic qualifiers are finalised

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Anuoluwapo Opeyori is one of the 173 badminton players who have qualified for a spot at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. His qualification means that he is the first Nigerian player to qualify for two Olympic Games. He featured at the delayed Tokyo 2020 and will thus made a back-to-back appearance.

The list of qualifiers has been released by the Badminton World Federation (BWF). This includes 166 regular quota places (83 men and 83 women), three universality places from the IOC Tripartite Commission (two men and one woman), plus an additional place for IOC Refugee Olympic Team athlete Dorsa Yavarivata,  whose participation was confirmed earlier this month in a special announcement by the IOC

Opeyori dominated Africa in the men’s singles from 2019 till date winning four African Championship titles and two African Games titles.

An elated Francis Orbih, President of Badminton Federation of Nigeria (BFN)  remarked on Saturday that Anuoluwapo Opeyori has broken the jinx in Nigeria badminton by making it to the Olympic Games in Paris.

Orbih said Opeyori’s qualification shows that the current leadership of BFN’s target of producing world class players is beginning to manifest.

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He revealed that BFN will leave no stone unturned in supporting the dreams and aspirations of the young players in making podium finishes.

Orbih said, “History has been made in badminton as Anuoluwapo Opeyori has secured a spot at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games with the release made by the Badminton World Federation (BWF).

“I am excited and full of joy because Anuoluwapo Opeyori is the first Nigerian badminton player to feature in the men’s singles at the Olympic Games and also the first Nigerian to attend two Olympics and back to back.

“Three years ago, it was Dorcas Adesokan in the women’s singles and Opeyori with his partner Godwin Olofua in the men’s doubles that made it to the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Today, Anuoluwapo Opeyori will represent Nigeria in the men’s singles; the leadership of BFN and Nigeria are proud of him”.

Orbih charged Anuoluwapo Opeyori not to relent but continue to train and attain top form ahead of the Olympic Games.

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He said, “I want to urge Anuoluwapo Opeyori to continue training hard for the Games; we are going to ensure he attends training tours before the Olympic Games”

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