As the pre-eminent force in African women’s football, Nigeria will be hoping to make more of an impact on the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup 2010 in Trinidad and Tobago than they did two years ago in the inaugural tournament. A straightforward campaign to reach New Zealand saw them qualify with a match to spare, and they were tipped to go through from what turned out to be a topsy-turvy group. The Flamingoes beat eventual group winners Korea Republic 2-1 before falling to England 1-0. Knowing that either of them could go through with a win, Nigeria and Brazil then slugged it out to a 2-2 draw that saw neither progress to the knockout rounds.
Like two years ago, the Flamingoes were the first African team to qualify for the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup. In this case, their passage was booked following a 2-1 victory over South Africa at the beginning of May. But the hard work of the two-legged tie against the Bantwana was done in the first match when the west Africans ran out to an impressive 5-0 win in Abeokuta. Ugochi Oparanozie was the spark in that one-sided contest, scoring four times, including a first within a minute of the opening whistle. Ngozi Okobi claimed the fifth in the first leg, while Charity Adule and Oparanozie again bagged the two in the away leg.
Drawn into a manageable Group A in Trinidad and Tobago, Nigeria coach Peter Dedevbo will be looking for a fast start in their opener against holders Korea DPR. If things do not go well in the first match there should be time to recover against two tournament debutantes: the hosts and Chile, who finished second in South American qualifying. The Flamingoes will no doubt be buoyed by the success of the Falconets, who battled their way to the Final of the U-20 Women’s World Cup in Germany. And though they lost to the hosts in the ultimate match, there is a feeling that the ceiling has been broken for Nigerian women’s football. “The success of [the Falconets] presents us with a big challenge,” Dedevbo, who was an assistant for the full Nigerian women’s team, said recently. “This is not the time to lower our guard now that Nigerians are turning to women’s football.”
Facts and figures
Amarachi Okoronkwo, Ebere Orji and Amenze Aighewi
Ngozi Okobi, Loveth Ayila
Nigeria played just 2 qualifying matches after Togo’s withdrawal put them into the second and final round without having kicked a ball.
The numbers game
4 - the number of major international tournaments Nigeria will compete in this year. The FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup comes on the heels of the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup as well as the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, while the Super Eagles also finished third in the CAF Africa Cup of Nations back in January.