There was a distinct sense of deja-vu at the end of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup quarter-final between Nigeria and France.
Just as in 2010, it was the girls in green shirts who fell to their knees while those in white raised their arms in celebration. In Azerbaijan, just as in Trinidad and Tobago two years ago, it was Nigeria’s turn to say goodbye to the competition.
“I was in charge two years ago, and we went out at the same stage of the tournament then,” said Nigerian coach Peter Dedevbo. “But I think the circumstances are very different here. In 2010 we were the architects of our own downfall. In Azerbaijan we have been more effective and our defeat today was down to the quality of our opponents, France.”
There can be no denying the Flamingoes were let down by their defensive weaknesses in their quarter-final two years ago. Despite the best efforts of a forward line containing the likes of Francisca Ordega and Ngozi Okobi, Nigeria were knocked out 6-5 after extra time by a Korea Republic side that would go on to win the competition.
Regrets and hopes
"We made too many defensive mistakes in 2010 and we avoided those errors this time, but still we got knocked out,” said Dedevbo.
Ironically, three of the defenders who helped keep a clean sheet against France in this year’s quarter-final formed part of the Nigerian back line in Trinidad and Tobago: Sarah Nnodim, Victoria Aidelomon and Ebere Okoye.
Nnodim it was who missed the second penalty in the shoot-out against France, after the match finished goalless, and it proved fatal to Nigeria’s hopes.
“We had practised our penalty-taking,” said the Nigerian coach, ruefully. “It’s a real shame because we had our chances to win the game, but we didn’t take them. I’m very unhappy. You can’t be satisfied with taking your team to the quarter-finals twice, only to get knocked out at the same stage each time.”
Yet Nigeria can take many positives from their performances in Azerbaijan. Much more secure in defence, the Flamingoes had some of the stars of the competition in their ranks.
The leading scorer in the group stage on six goals, Chinwendu Ihezuo also had the most assists to her name (four) and looks set to shine in the years to come. The same could be said for Halimatu Ayinde, who was third in both tables, on four goals and two assists, after the group stage. The future looks bright indeed for Nigerian women’s football.