The Many FIRSTS Of Uche Eucharia In Super Falcons, 30 Years And Counting

The Many FIRSTS Of Uche Eucharia In Super Falcons, 30 Years And Counting

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By Amaechi Agbo With Agency Report

At the National Stadium Surulere, Lagos Nigeria on the 16th day of February, 1991 were the venue and date of the high profile match with many firsts.

First, it was the first international match of the Nigeria called; who would represent Africa in another first – the first edition of the FIFA Women’s World Cup – in China later that year.

Back then, female football was a novel. But a certain Ngọzi Eucharia Uche, 18 years of age, took the Africa and the world as her stage to display her innate football prowess.

Like a star in a cloudy night, she shone. Energetic. Sublime. Charismatic. Efficient. Directing. Daring and scoring.

The first of five children – first child in Igbo culture comes with huge responsibilities – and it was not surprising that at her tender age before a global audience, she showed her football glory.

Despite her modest personality, former Nigerian international Ngozi Eucharia Uche is a foremost achiever among her peers on the continent with many first-class records under her belt both as a player and coach of the Super Falcons.

Ngọzi Eucharia Uche

The first of five children, Uche scored Nigeria’s first ever international goal and indeed the country’s first hat trick in women’s football on 16 February 1991 at the National Stadium in Lagos; when the Super Falcons defeated Black Queens of Ghana 5-1 in their first international match which was a qualifier towards the inaugural edition of the FIFA Women’s World held in China.

Eleven years ago and precisely 14 November 2010, Uche achieved the rare honour as the first woman coach and former Nigerian women international to win the African Women’s Cup of Nations (AWCON) when the Super Falcons trounced Equatorial Guinea 4-2 at the Sinaba Stadium, Daveyton in South Africa.

“I was a very great player in my days and from the start with the Super Falcons, the team was built around me,” the 48-year-old Uche told CAFOnline

“ I have eyes for scoring goals and it is something to be proud of for scoring the historic first international goal for the Super Falcons; I was so happy because I eventually scored a hat trick in that particular match against Ghana in Lagos almost 30 years ago now.

“That victory against Ghana both in Lagos and Accra as well as our qualification for the first edition of the FIFA World Cup in China (even before the Super Eagles qualified for their first FIFA World Cup at USA 94) made people realized the fact that whatever men can do, women can do better.”

Uche was also in the mix with the Super Falcons in two FIFA Women’s World Cup in 1991 and 1995. She was a proud Gold Medal winner when Nigeria hosted and won the maiden African Women’s Championship (now known as TotalEnergies Women’s Africa Cup of Nations).

Super Falcons celebrating a goal

“I featured in two FIFA Women’s World Cups,” she explained. “We had no experience when we took part in the first edition in China.”

But it was a poor outing for Nigeria in China with the Super Falcons losing all their three first round matches to Germany (0-4); Italy (0-1) and Chinese Taipei (0-1). They also failed to go beyond the First Round in their second outing at Sweden 1995 after losing to both Norway (0-8) and England (2-3) and a draw with Canada (3-3).

“A lot of things worked against us back then,” she recollected. “Majority can’t cope with the weather and there was the issue with foods; so it was a horrible experience considering our results in those first two FIFA Women’s World Cup.”

But after the setback that was China 1991 and Sweden 1995 where the Super Falcons took a single point from six matches, Coach Ismaila Mabo whipped the West African lasses complete with Uche into a solid team to face the rest of the world at the third edition of the FIFA Women’s World Cup in the US.

“Everything about our preparation to the USA 99 World Cup was okay,” explained Uche who was dropped on the eve of the tournament in the USA for controversial striker Iyabo Abade. “Coach Mabo was in charge that time; we had a long camping and took a training tour to the US in order for us to be acclimatized but I was dropped from the final squad”.

“Honestly, the preparation for the 1999 World Cup was far better than the previous ones and we felt at home and played our best football; till today that has been our (Nigeria) best performance at the World Cup by reaching the quarter finals and was achieved under a local coach.”

After a career spanning a decade with the Super Falcons, it was not a surprise that Uche stepped into coaching soon after her retirement, starting as an understudy to many trainers in the Nigerian national teams set up.

She endured a long wait before being named the first female coach to lead the Super Falcons at the start of 2009-albeit after the team suffered their first-ever defeat in Africa following the semi-final loss to Equatorial Guinea in the 2008 AWCON.

“I’d told myself right from the outset that I’ll remain in football even after I retired as a footballer and I took to coaching almost immediately after we won the first African Women’s Championship,” Uche, a First Degree holder in Business Administration from The Delta State University (DELSU) Abraka further said

“I was already in the national team’s crew by the second edition of the Africa Women’s Championship and I assisted more than six coaches in all the categories from the Flamingos (Under-17) to the Falconets (U20) before becoming the head Coach of the Super Falcons in 2009.

“That was the ladder climbed before becoming the head coach of the Super Falcons and it was an opportunity to show what I can do at that level.”

At the 2010 AWCON in South Africa, all eyes were on Uche being the first female to lead the Nigeria’s national team; and even more so as the first of the pioneering members of the Super Falcons to coach the team.

But the Uche-led Super Falcons came out in flying colours by winning all their matches including that 4-2 finale victory against their bogey rivals, Equatorial Guinea who hitherto ended Nigeria’s long-standing unbeaten run on the continent when they hosted the AWCON in 2008.

“Yes, winning the AWCON as coach in 2010 was a great achievement for me; being the first female to coach the Super Falcons to such glory and I was also the first Nigerian and indeed African to win the AWCON both as a player and coach,” affirmed Uche who failed to get a contract extension after the Super Falcons by the [Indomitable] Lionesses of Cameroon to the ticket for the London 2012 Olympics Football Tournament. “Winning the AWCON was a memorable experience; something that cannot be forgotten in a hurry and enjoyed every bit of it then and even now.”

“To be sincere, the person who inspired my choice of coaching as a profession is Fran Hilton-Smith; she played for South Africa and she never gave up the game after injury forced her to retire from playing.”

An apostle of attacking football, Uche revealed her mentor as a coach is a former South African international and coach, Fran Hilton-Smith-the immediate past South Africa’s Technical Director of Women’s Football.

Super Falcons in early 90s

She said: “To be sincere, the person who inspired my choice of coaching as a profession is Fran Hilton-Smith; she played for South Africa and she never gave up the game after injury forced her to retire from playing.

“She took to coaching and started impacting knowledge here and there in South Africa; she is also recognised by both CAF and FIFA.

“She is my mentor and I really want to emulate all what she’s been doing both with CAF and FIFA; I’m still drawing a lot of inspiration from her.

“I want to impact my knowledge of the game to the next generation.”

Yet Uche who also studied Physical and Health Education before acquiring a First Degree in Business Administration, said education is sacrosanct for both players and coaches in order to make headway in football.

“Though football or let’s say football tactics is not about the amount of Degrees you have, education is very important to make good progress,” insisted Uche who is currently attached with Nigeria Women Football League (NWFL) side Heartland Queens of Owerri. “ You can’t do away with education in football because we keep learning every day and there is no limit to knowledge and learning.

” All my life, I have not work outside football; I’m a top professional coach ;though coaching is a difficult job in in Nigeria. But that is the only thing I know apart from few other things I do privately on the side.

“By nature, I’m not a noise maker; I am a very quiet person.

“ I don’t go where I am not invited and I don’t blow my own trumpet,” noted the celebrated Uche who was known for her trademark jerry curls hairstyle since her playing days.

CAF Credited.

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