A special place is already reserved in African football folklore for Florence Omagbemi as the first lady to lift the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations when Nigeria hosted and won the inaugural edition in 1998 in Abeokuta, South-Western part of the West African country.
The Super Falcons have won seven of the last nine editions of the final tournament and Omagbemi led her troops to two other successive victories in 2000 and 2002 to go down in history as one of the most successive captains of a national women’s team on the continent.
She has since retired and will be one of two former amazons along with South Africa’s Desiree Ellis that would be leading their respective countries quest for glory as coaches at the upcoming Women’s AFCON in Cameroon from 19 November to 3 December.
Housed in Group B with perennial rivals, Ghana as well as Mali and Kenya, Omagbemi is not oblivious of the challenges ahead but was enthusiastic of becoming the first captain to win the trophy as coach.
“Though as the defending champions, a lot is expected from us, I don’t see it as a pressure because every team coming to Cameroon would want to have a go at us but we know remaining at the top is never going to be easy,” began the 41-year-old former forward.
“We have communicated that to the team and we want to keep our high standard. We want to retain the trophy because that is the target in Cameroon. We want to respect the other teams because there are no smaller teams again in football but we are not under any pressure. We just want to retain our trophy as the defending champions,” she affirmed in an interview with CAFOnline.com ahead of their opening match against Mali on Sunday, 20 November 2016 in Limbe.
Cafonline.com: You were the first player to lift the African Women’s Cup of Nations in 1998. What memories do you have of that feat?
Florence Omagbemi: Oh! My God! I will start by giving glory to God for that privilege and opportunity as well as thank everybody who was involved especially my teammates some of whom I’m fortunate to be working together currently with the team now. It’s always a good memory and when you sit down to recollect some of those favourable times and see how it can be used to assist the new players we are working with; it’s always a great feeling.
Altogether, how many Women’s African Cup of Nations did you take part in?
Officially, the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations started in 1998 but I was also part of the team that qualified for the World Cup in 1991 in China as well as the 1995 edition in the USA. Nigeria hosted the first edition of the Women’s AFCON in 1998 and I was opportune to captain the Super Falcons to win the trophy for the first time. I also captained the team to win in 2000 in South Africa and in 2002 in Warri in Nigeria; thereafter we went to the World Cup in the USA. So,
What memories do you have of your last match for the Super Falcons?
I think that was after we qualified for the second Olympic Games in Greece; our first appearance was in Sydney 2000. The last match I played for the national team was against the South African team in Abuja and that was the last phase of our qualifier for the Olympic Games in Athens; it was good and my impact was felt as we qualified for the Olympics. Thereafter, my teammate Mercy Akide and I took permission to return to our club in the USA because we had an important championship match. Unfortunately, I sustained an injury which kept me out for long. It was painful because I was looking forward to Athens as the opportunity to say goodbye to the national team. It was tough.
I really wanted to hang my boots in Athens after playing in three Women’s AFCON and four World Cups but it was not to be and that game against South Africa in Abuja happened to be my last for the Falcons.
You have made the transition swiftly to coaching, at what point did you decide to go into that?
I think the talent was there all along with me but it never manifested until somebody discovered it and pushed you into it. Sincerely, I was never looking towards this direction when I was playing but most of the coaches I worked with had always noticed the leadership qualities in me, both at the club and national team levels so they gave me much responsibility when I’m on the pitch to direct my teammates. So, I worked with them not as a coach but as a captain; and since I’ve been playing for the national team, I knew this opportunity will come one day because women’s football had always been my passion.
Nigeria is in Group B with Ghana, Kenya and Mali. How do you fancy their chances especially against bitterest rivals Ghana?
In my playing days, it was never easy games against the Ghanaians though we usually had the upper hands. Nigeria and Ghana started women’s football at the same time and they have ideas and talents about the women’s game. So, the Black Queens and even the Cameroonians would naturally want to pose a challenge but we are going to take our matches one at a time because there are no smaller teams again in football. We are not under any pressure; we just want to retain our trophy as the defending champions.