Nigeria's dual nationals lead Super Falcons to AWCON

Nigeria strikers Ifeoma Onumonu and Esther Okoronkwo came up big as the Super Falcons secured their place at the Women's Africa Cup of Nations [AWCON] after a 3-0 aggregate victory over Cote d'Ivoire.

The duo are the latest internationals born or raised abroad who are stamping their authority on the team, and adding to a big American influence on the fortunes of Africa's most decorated women's football team.

No less than five of the starters from the last four games have connections to the USA. Francisca Ordega, Toni Payne, Okoronkwo, Onumonu, and Michelle Alozie all have US connections and have brought that experience to bear for the Super Falcons.

With team arrowhead Asisat Oshoala missing due to injury -- one which is expected to keep the Barcelona forward out for at least 10 weeks -- it took the Nigerian-American duo to shoot the Super Falcons to the finals in Morocco.

Former Lamar University forward Okoronkwo hit a dagger with three minutes of play left to secure a 1-0 road win in the second leg of the fixture.

That goal followed on from the first leg where Onumonu's brace had given the Super Falcons a 2-0 lead, one which left the Gotham FC forward looking forward to more.

"I am really excited to be playing, so happy to score two goals," said the NY/NJ forward. "I know I have more in me and I know I can do better. We are ready for the AWCON, ready to get out there again."

The Ivoriens found it impossible to surmount the deficit in the second leg, despite their best efforts, as the Nigerians put up a resilient defensive effort, anchored on inspirational goalkeeping from Chiamaka Nnadozie. The Paris FC goalie came up big with a huge penalty save late in the first half to deny Fatou Coulibaly.

"When the referee called the penalty, I told myself that this is the time for me to save the team. And I did exactly what I told myself," Nnadozie told ESPN.

Onumonu's brace may have caught the eye in that first leg, but the undoubted star of the show the second time out was Leicester City defender and former USC alum Ashleigh Plumptre.

The former England junior international was playing her first official game after FIFA approved her nationality switch to Nigeria, and did such an excellent job that she was applauded off the Abuja pitch by fans.

But America's influence is the strongest on this team, all through the qualification period. Against Ghana in the first round, former US college star Uchenna Kanu scored twice in the first leg, with one assist coming from former Washington Spirit star Ordega, and the second from former US junior International Payne.

At the back, the Houston Dash's converted defender Alozie has quickly become a fan favourite, despite playing away from the forward position that she is more used to, and Payne is a livewire and assist machine for the forwards.

All of this, of course is put together by coach Randy Waldrum, an American, who combines the Super Falcons role with his College soccer job.

Nneka Ede was the first player from abroad called up to the Super Falcons team by then coach Sam Okpodu in 2003. At the time she was playing for QPR Women and she told ESPN that the team makes it easy for such players to integrate.

"I was honoured to be the first player raised abroad to be given the opportunity to represent my country at national team level. I enjoyed my experience with the national team, Ede said.

"The national team is actually open and welcoming towards players raised abroad. I found it welcoming back then. It is about taking the opportunity when called up to join the team and I am happy to see these girls doing so well."

Having qualified, especially after having negotiated the tough route of Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire, Nnadozie says the Super Falcons have only one thing on their minds when they get to Morocco later this year.

She said: "We are going there to bring the trophy back home. It is ours, it is for Nigeria so we are going there to take what belongs to us.

"The most important thing was the qualifying stage. We played against Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire. These are two of the toughest teams in all of Africa. So beating them, and going to Morocco, we are going there to claim the trophy."