By EMMA NJOKU
The third edition of the FIFA Under-17 Women’s World Cup gets underway today in faraway Azerbaijan, with Africa’s reigning champion, Nigeria’s Flamingoes, flagging off its campaign against the Canadian team inside the main bowl of the Tofig Bahramov Stadium in Baku City this afternoon, by 1.00pm Nigerian time.
The Peter Dedevbo-tutored Nigerian girls are expected to face a stiff opposition from their Canadian counterparts considering the rich pedigree of the later in women football, particularly, in the age grade tournaments. Canada has qualified for eight out of nine FIFA Under-17 and Under-20 Women’s World Cups. She went to the CONCACAF qualifying competition as defending champion, but got the ticket to Azerbaijan 2012 as runner-up to champion and number one on FIFA ranking, the United States of America.
Both Canada and Nigeria have featured in all the editions of the tournament with quarterfinals records. But if FIFA ranking in women football is anything to go by, then one might be tempted to give it to Canada, which is rated seventh as against Nigeria’s distant 27 position in the world. However, today’s match promises no less excitement, as both sides, looking to improve on their quarterfinal records in the tournament, would aim at having brilliant start in Azerbaijan. Despite his team’s brilliant run on the road to the tournament, Coach of the Canucks (nickname for the Canadian team), Bryan Rosenfeld, admitted that the Nigerian team must not be toyed with.
“You look at a little bit of their (Nigeria) history right now with how they’ve done in Under-17 and Under-20, there seems to be consistency in their play. They are becoming more and more organised in their women football; the talent keeps growing. “They are definitely a squad to be reckoned with, not to be underestimated, and their strengths are definitely something that we are going to deal with,” Rosenfeld said ahead of today’s clash.
The coach banks on the unity and strength of his team, particularly, the striking duo of Valerie Sanderson and Summer Clarke, who was on fire at the recent CONCACAF Under-17 Championship in Guatemala, accounting for 11 goals between them. “We have a team that is very much a hard-working unit. But at the same time, I believe that we have some special players who can make a difference in a game.
With the right supporting cast around those players, I think we can do quite well. Like anyone else, we’re going to go for it. We’re going to go as far as we can and we’re confident in our ability to do so,” he emphasized. Flamingoes’ Coach, Dedevbo, who guided the Nigerian team to the quarterfinals at the tournament two years ago, is no less confident that his current squad is good enough to challenge for the trophy.
Although three players, Chidinma Edeji, Victoria Aidelomon and Halimatu Ayinde, scored two goals each in the two-legged final qualifying fixture against Zambia, the coach said he does not want to single out any player for accolades. “I am proud to have a team in which the game is built around each and every individual player,” the coach said. The Nigerian team boasts of a strong record in the tournament’s qualifying round matches.
The Flamingoes had little trouble in the two rounds of on-the-road to Azerbaijan 2012 finals, beating Kenya 2-0 and 3-0 in the first and second legs respectively, and then following it up with 2-1 and 5-0 victories against Zambia, also in their two-legged encounter. “Both teams were strong and even though. We won all the four matches, but it was not that easy,” Dedevbo added. Overall, Nigeria has 10 victories out of 12 matches in qualifying for three Under-17 Women’s World Cups.
The two blemishes came in 2008, when the country lost to Ghana and drew Cameroon in the preliminaries. The Flamingoes are in Group A alongside Canada, Colombia and host, Azerbaijan. Before Nigeria’s match against Canada, host, Azerbaijan and Colombia will set the tune in the opening match, also billed for the Tofig Bahramov Stadium in Baku.
There will be two other matches today in Group B, with France taking on USA in Lankaran, while Africa’s other flag bearer, Gambia, will have full hands against defending champion, Korea Democratic Peoples’ Republic in the second group match.