The Falconets of Nigeria are the undisputed queens of Africa when it comes to qualifying for world events, and Germany 2010 will be their fifth U-20 World Cup out of five after they reached Canada 2002, Thailand 2004, Russia 2006 and Chile 2008 previously. They’ve advanced out of the group in the last three editions without being able to get over the quarter-final hump, but they’ve shown that they’re on the precipice of greater gains. In 2004, they lost to eventual champions Germany only in a penalty shootout, while in 2006 they beat giants Canada in the group stage before falling to Brazil in the last eight. Their elimination to France in 2008 was the hardest for the West Africans to swallow as they let a goal lead slip away and were knocked out by a last-minute winner.
Nigeria stormed through qualifying for the tournament, once again impressing continental watchers along the way as they tallied 22 goals in their two ties. First they dismantled Zimbabwe 10-1 aggregate over two legs, but a much tougher task was expected against South Africa in their final qualifying match-up. However, they beat the Basetsana in a 5-3 thriller in the first leg, and then booked their ticket with authority behind a shattering 7-0 victory in Abuja in the second leg.
With so much experience at the U-20 level, Nigeria will like their chances at managing the group stage, so they will be eyeing a spot in the knockout rounds at least. Coach Adat Egan’s task will be to help his team, which has a core of players that were also at Chile 2008, build momentum through the quarter-finals and hopefully beyond.
Facts and figures
Uchechi Sunday, Ebere Orji and Glory Iroka
Out of their 22 goals scored in qualifying, Sunday put a full half dozen into the net and Orji scored just one less in the four matches.
The numbers game
3 - Nigeria have reached the quarter-final stage of the last three U-20 Women’s World Cups, but they have never advanced past that stage.
Cynthia Uwak (2006), Rita Chikwelu (2008)