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By: Olamide O. Abe

Gift Monday handed hosts Nigeria a winning start to the Aisha Buhari Cup with both goals of Wednesday’s opening game against Mali in a high tempo start to the tournament, Nairasports reports.

Both goals came from the efforts of Asisat Oshoala, as Monday headed home her 82nd-minute cross and then also chipping her defense-splitting headed pass over Karenta in the dying minute.

The Robo Queens captain’s 92nd-minute strike proved decisive as Nigeria missed out on a myriad of chances to make a bigger impact but will be satisfied to have taken the first three point haul of the week-long event.

A limited crowd – headlined by the Nigeria Supporters Club in their traditional green and white checkered shirt – ensured a heady atmosphere at the Mobolaji Johnson Arena.

President of the International Federation of Football Associations (FIFA), Gianni Infantino, arrived in Lagos on Wednesday and was in attendance for the maiden edition of the six-nations invitational tournament aimed to uplift girl-child development in the continent.

The football governing body head was accompanied by the association’s Secretary General, Fatma Samoura while Confederation of Africa Football (CAF) President, Patrice Motsepe, Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) President, Amaju Pinnick, Minister for Youths and Sports, Sunday Dare, Minister for Women Affairs, Pauline Tallen and Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu made up the list of VIPs at the stadium.

Mali looked to feel the pressure as Nigeria had ample opportunity to take an early lead but the doggedness of the Les Aiglonnes backline of Tangara Oumou, Sogore Coulouba, Fatou Dembele and Bintou Koite kept the Super Falcons at bay.

Nigeria’s first chance of the game came in the 15th minute when Oparanozie got the better of Oumou and sent a pinpointed cross to Ordega but the resultant shot from the CSKA Moscow attacker hits a Mali defender.

Michelle Alozie recieved the first caution of the game in the 17th minute after being put under several pressure by Aissata Traore.

The 24-year-old Giugamp winger was the most threatening in Aly Elkebich’s team, causing a lot of troubles to Alozie on the flanks and winning the most fouls of the game as all Nigerian defenders failed to come to grips with her dribbling skills.

The first half ended goalless as a consequence of the conservative approach deployed by both teams to only kick the ball from the backline to attack which limited activities in the centre areas of the pitch.

Mali’s goalkeeper Fatoumata Karenta had a busy game with couple of saves inside the second 45 minutes – claiming crosses and parrying the ball clear of her goal to keep the visitors hope alive in the game.

Oshoala was involved in a slick solo move in the 51st minute that should have offered Uchenna Kanu a chance to score the tournament’s opening goal but the captain didn’t pass and shot straight at Sogore instead.

Kanu then blasted wide to the side net with a similar chance from close range on the other edge this time after being set through by Oshoala nineteen minutes later.

While Nigeria had a number of chances in the second half, its best came late in the game. They came close to scoring with a double efforts in the 72nd minute as Ordega cut in from the byline to set Oshoala through but had only a tight angle to work with and put it wide of the target before failing to dribble past Karenta in a one-on-one situation.

The Aisha Buhari Cup is a more doddle tournament than the Falcons’ last three matches at the United States Summer Series, as Nigeria showed more of an inclination to attack as compared to the aversed display against Jamaica and USWNT.

Nigeria continued to knock on the door as the full time wore on and finally broke through eight minutes to regulation time, when Oshoala sent in a rolling cross near the penalty and it fell to an unmarked Monday who hit a curling first-time header for the opening goal.

Nigeria had a scare as Mali took a quick free kick that caught the home defence napping but not goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie, who came out timely to smoother the opportunity.

Then Gift Monday added her second of the day in the space of ten minutes. Picking up the ball inside the penalty box after a short pass from Oshoala and didn’t make much of a body check to shake off the defence and open room for herself to fire home a curling lob that gave Karenta no chance.

Monday’s brace overshadowed a return to Lagos for Champions League winner FC Barcelona’s Oshoala, whose every touch was loudly cheered but who had a frustrating evening as she could not convert her chances.

Player of the match: Asisat Oshoala

Up Next: In Matchday 2 of the continental friendly games being played in honour of Nigeria’s First Lady, Aisha Buhari, the Indomitable Lionesses of Cameroon and Atlas Lionesses of Uganda will get their campaign underway on Thursday.

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