Canada 2014 will see a return of Nigeria and Ghana to the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup as the two giants of African women's youth football emerged victorious from the CAF qualifiers - albeit in very different fashion.
The Super Falconets won their six matches, scoring a record-breaking 31 goals in the process without conceding one, while Ghana had to come from behind to oust Equatorial Guinea, who beat them 1-0 in the first leg of their final round tie. The west Africans won the return leg in Accra 1-0 courtesy of Grace Adams' early goal, sending the game straight to a penalty shoot-out. There the Black Princess' won 4-3 to ensure their third consecutive appearance at the finals.
After the contest, coach Bashir Hayford said that they dominated the game, even though their opponents played well defensively. "We went forward, but we could not penetrate because they were too compact in the middle, and they were tall and physical."
The two games against the central Africans were the only two matches the Ghanaians played as their first round opponents Guinea-Bissau withdrew, as did Uganda, whom they were to face in the second round. Hayford said the lack of matches hurt the players. "We did not play any competitive games until the Equatorial Guinea match, so I think we were match rusty. But we will prepare very well before we travel to the World Cup."
In contrast, Nigeria, who with Brazil, Germany and USA have been omnipresent at the finals, had to play in all three rounds. They thrashed Sierra Leone 16-0 on aggregate in the first round, including a 10-0 rout in the first leg, with Uchechi Sunday scoring five times. The striker, who represented the Super Falcons at the FIFA Women's World Cup Germany 2011™ and was a member of the Nigerian under-20 side that finished second at the World Cup in 2010, top-scored in the qualifiers with ten goals.
In the second round the west Africans, who finished fourth in Japan two years ago, enjoyed two 4-0 victories against Tunisia to qualify for the final round against South Africa. A 6-0 in the first leg in Abuja all but killed the tie, with the Nigerians following up with a 1-0 win in Johannesburg in the return leg. Yetunde Adeboyejo scored the only goal of the game early in the first half.
Nigerian coach Peter Dedevbo dismissed suggestions that Nigeria had no tough matches because the opposition was so weak. "No, it is not because we do not have any opposition. It is because I have a good team. This present U-20 team has been together for a long time. This was the team that played in the U-17 World Cup in 2012 together. So you know, this team is experienced."
* A record-breaking victory*
In the preliminary round, Uganda set a scoring record, beating newcomers South Sudan 13-0 in the return leg in Kampala for the biggest-ever victory in the African qualifiers. Disappointingly it was to remain their last game in the competition as their first-round opponents Egypt withdrew and the east Africans themselves then failed to play their second round games against Ghana.
South Africa, who received a bye into the second round, had few problems in overcoming Tanzania 4-1 and 5-0 for a 9-1 aggregate victory before becoming unstuck against the dominant Nigerians. The other side in the final round, Equatorial Guinea, beat Côte d'Ivoire 6-2 on aggregate in the first round and qualified for the play-offs by beating Zambia 2-0 and 4-0.
There were also good performances from Tanzania, who twice beat Mozambique (10-0 and 5-1) before losing out to South Africa and Zambia - who beat Namibia 1-0 and 2-0 - as well as Tunisia who overcome their North African rivals Morocco 4-0 and 4-1. But at the end of the day, none of them were strong enough to prevent the Super Falconets and the Black Princess' from making their third finals in a row.