Nigeria’s youth female national team, Falconets’ pioneer captain, Ifeanyi Stephanie Chiejine will feel fulfilled in death, as the under-20 squad, in spite of only playing in their first ever appearance at the Africa Games, ensured the country got back to the gold medal after 12 years.
Nigeria, then represented by the senior squad, Super Falcons, last got to the final in 2007, when they won gold for the second time, after setting the first mark on home soil in 2003, such that Thursday’s feat in Rabat, Morocco was a befitting, though highly emotional farewell to Chiejine, who was buried in Lagos same day.
The Falconets emerged champions of the women’s football tournament of the 12th Games in Rabat on Thursday after a 3-2 penalty shoot-out triumph over their counterparts from Cameroon.
The keenly-contested game between two teams that had battled to a 1-1 draw in a group phase match eight days earlier, ended goalless after regulation and extra time at Stade Boubker Aamar, just outside Rabat.
Penalty shoot-out followed, and the Nigerian under-20 girls, one of only four teams to have featured in every edition of the FIFA U20 Women’s World Cup since the competition started 17 years ago, triumphed and went on to take the gold meals, marking their country’s third in history.
It indeed was a historic and memorable send off for Chiejine (aka Smally) by the Falconets, as they ensured an end to a torrid run that saw Nigeria failing to qualify for the 2011 edition in Mozambique and then finished fourth in Brazzaville four years ago.
Although Nigeria is one of four teams to have featured in every edition of the FIFA U20 Women’s World Cup since the competition started 17 years ago, triumphed, it was the first time the Falconets would play at the Africa Games, as it had always been meant for the Super Falcons.
In a condolence message few days to the burial, new minister of sports, Sunday Akinlabi Dare described Chiejine as a fearless heroine that was bold enough to step where many feared.
He stated further that her leadership qualities were worth emulating by Nigerian youths, as she was always determined to succeed in despite all the challenges she faced in her chosen profession, which saw her captain the Falconets to the first FIFA U19 Women’s World in Canada in 2002.
Dare said: ”Ifeanyichukwu Chiejine was taken from us too soon, her life was spent striving for excellence in sports. She was a heroine, who went where most only dream of.
“She won firsts for herself and laurels for her dear country. Our youth must learn great lessons from her life that dreams can come true. Nigeria owes her a great debt of gratitude.
“On behalf of His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari GCFR, I wish to condole with the immediate and extended family of the deceased.
”I also extend my sympathies to her former teammates, coaches and colleagues, who may feel irreparable loss by her demise.
“To the NFF, I say accept my sympathies. May God grant her eternal rest and comfort her family and the entire Nigerian football fraternity.”