African trio seal their passage
© Foto-net

Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa will be flying the flag for Africa in the next edition of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup, which takes place in Trinidad and Tobago between 5 and 25 September 2010.

The former two nations, nicknamed the Flamingos and the Black Maidens, continued their regional dominance by seeing off South Africa and Tunisia respectively in the final round of African qualifying. The pair thus reached their second successive world finals at this level, having taken part in the inaugural tournament in New Zealand in 2008.

Nigeria showed their class in the first leg in Abeokuta, scoring five goals without reply against South Africa, though the Bantwana were able to salvage some pride in front of their own fans in the return by keeping the score down to a respectable 2-1 defeat. In the other qualifying tie, Ghana brushed aside Tunisia with a resounding 11-0 aggregate victory over two legs.

The South African girls subsequently bounced back to beat Tunisia in a play-off for the last available African Zone qualifying spot for Trinidad and Tobago 2010. After winning by a 1-0 margin in the first leg, a hard-fought 2-1 second-leg success away from home sealed qualification for the Bantwana, the first time a South African women’s team had reached the finals of a FIFA showpiece.

“We succeeded because the girls were extremely focused, and they played with passion and pride,” said coach Solly Luvhengo. “We set the tempo and we didn’t allow Tunisia to dictate the game, especially since we were playing them in their own backyard. Tunisia are hard to beat and I am proud of my players: they fought like real champions.”

The race to Port of Spain
With the big kick-off in Trinidad and Tobago just four months away, Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa already know the identity of most of their upcoming opponents. The Nigerians and the Ghanaians will be keen to improve upon their efforts last time around in New Zealand 2008, where both sides picked up a victory, a draw and a defeat in the group stage to fall at the first hurdle.

The Flamingos are in Group A, one the most evenly matched sections, and their first test comes in the shape of defending champions Korea DPR. The group also sees them up against two tournament debutants in Chile and host nation Trinidad and Tobago for a place in the knockout stages.

Ghana have yet to discover their European opponents in the group stage, but their minds are firmly focused on their opening encounter against Canada, a country which has a real tradition in the women’s game. Nor are the section’s final team Brazil pushovers at any level.

First-timers South Africa too still await the identity of the European qualifier that will make up their group, though they do know they kick off their campaign with a stern test against 2008 quarter-finalists Korea Republic. Their second outing will be against Mexico, another side appearing for the first time at this event.