Flamingoes flapping hard to take flight
© Getty Images

Nigeria are desperate to improve on a quarter-final place at the last FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in 2010 by making it to the last four in Azerbaijan this September.

The Flamingoes, as the Nigeria U-17 women are called by their fans, were stopped in Trinidad and Tobago two years ago by eventual winners Korea Republic only after a wild 6-5 extra-time battle.

Drawn into Group A this year along with the hosts, Colombia and Canada, the west Africans begin their campaign on opening day, 22 September, with a test in Baku against the powerful Canadians.

“All the teams in our group and indeed the world are good teams. There are no minnows in football anymore,” said coach Peter Dedevbo, who was also in charge of the team two years ago. “But my expectation is to go past the quarter-final where we were eliminated at the last World Cup.”

Always ambitious in women’s football, the Nigerians are looking to cement their reputation atop African football by flying their flag higher than Ghana and debutants Gambia.

We will qualify from our first round group and from then on, anything is possible.
Oluchi Ofoegbu on Nigeria's chances

The Ghanaians will now have joined Nigeria at all three of the U-17 events. At the inaugural competition in New Zealand in 2008, the Flamingoes crashed out in the first round, before that remarkable improvement in Trinidad and Tobago.

In 2007, Dedevbo was an assistant coach for Nigeria at the FIFA Women’s World Cup in China PR, and he is currently manager of reigning league champions Delta Queens, who he has handled since 2003. He is back with at least five players from the last edition, namely captain Victoria Aidelomon, Oluchi Ofoegbu, Halima Ayinde, Chioma Alimba and Ebere Okoye.

Skipper Aidelomon says she will be on the top of the world if she can lead the team to an historic achievement in Azerbaijan. “Nothing would give me a bigger thrill than to lead this team to a final victory on 13 October,” said the Rivers Angels star.

“We will qualify from our first round group and from then on, anything is possible,” further predicts a very confident Ofoegbu. “We have so much confidence that this team can go all the way this time.”

New faces, same results
The Nigerian girls dismissed their counterparts from Kenya and Zambia to qualify for their third World Cup appearance. In February, they dumped Kenya out 5-0 on aggregate in the first round after they won their home tie 3-0.

The Flamingoes showed their class in the second round by beating Zambia 7-1 on aggregate, winning 2-1 in Zambia before posting a 5-0 whitewash at home to book their passage to Azerbaijan 2012.

Right winger Chidinma Edeji and forward Tessy Biahwo will be two players in the Flamingoes to watch out for at the tournament. Edeji features for Bayelsa Queens and has proved to be both a scorer and provider of goals. She was on target twice in the qualifier against Zambia while also providing assists in that game.

“I am delighted to be part of the team for my first World Cup. I believe we can go very far in this competition,” said Edeji. Biahwo is from Confluence Queens of Lokoja and is the team’s free-kick specialist. Like Edeji, this will be a World Cup debut for her.

A squad of 35 players began training for the event in July in the Nigerian capital city of Abuja, from which a final rooster will be drawn. The Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) also plan an invitational tournament involving the three African representatives for the World Cup as part of the build-up for the global finals.

Officials said the team will most likely set up another training camp in Faro, Portugal, and play warm-up games in France two weeks prior to flying out to Azerbaijan.