Unlike the other confederations, the three African participants at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Jordan 2016 later this year will not be determined in a continental championship. Instead, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) has opted for qualification to be based on head-to-head ties, with the three winners of the second round picking up the big prize: A ticket to the global finals. Withdrawals in the earlier rounds have, unfortunately, resulted in a situation that three of the six teams still eyeing a place at the finals, have yet to play a game.
For one, Ghana can qualify for their fifth U-17 women's finals on the trot after just two matches. The Black Maidens, who advanced into the second round after their opponents Sierra Leone pulled out ahead of the first round, will face Morocco, who also had a walkover in the previous tie with Mali pulling out.
Although the west Africans will go into the tie as clear favourites, football officials have left nothing to chance. Coach Evans Adotey has been able to hold a training camp at the Ghanaman Soccer Centre of Excellence. Ghana is the only African country – to date – to advance to the semi-finals of the global competition. In 2012, they beat Japan in the quarter-finals before losing to France in the last four. A 1-0 victory against Germany in the play-off match saw them finish third. At the last finals in Costa Rica, the Black Maidens topped their group, but went out against Italy on a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-finals.
Like Ghana, Nigeria have appeared at all four previous World Cup finals, but unlike their west African rivals, they have already had the opportunity of playing in the qualifying tournament this time around. The Flamingoes secured a comfortable 9-0 aggregate victory against Namibia in the first round, with Cynthia Aku and captain Rasheedate Ajibade, who both already played at the last finals in Costa Rica, top-scoring for their side with three goals each. Ajibade scored two in the 4-0 first-leg win, while Aku got her brace in the return leg in Windhoek.
Bala Nikyu's team will face South Africa in the second round, with the coach saying he was confident that his side would beat Bantwana, who are the third team in the play-off yet to play a game. The South Africans, who advanced to the final round after 2014 World Cup finalists Zambia withdrew, have one previous appearance at the finals. In 2010, they conceded a disappointing 17 goals in three defeats against Germany, Korea Republic and Mexico and finished bottom of their group.
A rookie for Jordan
The final second round clash sees Cameroon take on Egypt and as neither side has previously qualified for the finals, Africa will be represented in Jordan by at least one rookie. North Africa have not managed to take the strength their men's teams enjoy into the women's game and no team from the region has ever represented the continent at the global event. Tunisia twice failed at the final hurdle, but for Egypt the games against Cameroon are the first time they have come within two games of making it all the way.
A 9-0 thrashing of Djibouti in the first round would suggest that the Egyptians are serious about their endeavours to reach Jordan and several of the squad were called up to the senior team for their friendly against Libya to help them prepare for the games against Cameroon. Unlike Egypt, the Cameroonian side were pushed all the way in their first round clash by Ethiopia. The visitors took the lead in the first leg in Yaounde, but two goals in the second half by Soli Diana turned things around.
The return leg again saw Ethiopia take the lead and in the 87th minute were 2-0 up and seemed on course to qualifying. However, Alexandra Takounda found the tie-levelling goal with three minutes to go, forcing the match into a penalty shoot-out. Cameroon goalkeeper Carole Mimboe proved to be the match winner, as she saved twice to set up a 5-4 victory and a place in the play-off rounds.
Cameroon’s coach Minkero Birwe tipped the strength of his team after the match, saying: “The Ethiopians are brilliant technically, but we maintained focus and came out stronger in the second half.”