Ghana and Nigeria have already shown their proficiency at youth level in African women’s football, and they have the chance to provide further evidence of their advances again this month. Their U-20 sides are one tie away from qualifying for the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Japan later this year, and they are seeking to emulate the feat of their U-17 girls, who have already booked their places at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Azerbaijan.
Nigeria, who were runners-up at the last U-20 event in Germany two years ago, will begin at home by facing off against the Democratic Republic of Congo in the third and final round of qualifying. The Congolese have been to two previous FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cups, in Russia in 2006 and Chile two years later. The other decisive tie is between Ghana and Tunisia, who hope to become the first north African nation to qualify for a FIFA women’s football tournament.
Ghana will be favourites based on the fact they had a side at the last FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Germany, the first time they had qualified at that level. “No doubt our motivation is to get to the World Cup again,” said Black Princesses coach Robert Sackey, whose side are away in the first leg of their tie at the Soukara Municipal Stadium in Tunis on Saturday. “We will not be satisfied until we deliver. The most important thing is the delivery.”
Ghana were quite formidable in the previous round against a well-drilled South African side with Priscilla Saahenen and Jane Ayiyam setting themselves out as players to watch in the future. In the end, Ghana’s 5-0 aggregate triumph reflected their dominance. Their Tunisian opponents have got further than ever before in qualifying with wins over Morocco and Kenya in the previous rounds. Part of the reason for their success has been their ability to draw on players from the diaspora in Europe. When they thrashed Morocco away in the first round, the goals came from Paris St. Germain striker Leila Maknoun and the Lyon-based Amel Majri. Also in the squad is Ella Kaabachi from PSG.
Can Falconets make it six from six? Nigeria’s Falconets have been to each of the past five FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cups and the country still has a stranglehold on the upper-echelon of women’s soccer on the continent. It means the confident statement by their coach Edwin Okon ahead of Saturday’s first leg at the MKO Abiola Stadium in Abeotuka is not unexpected. “Our game plan is to win both legs and qualify Nigeria for the World Cup,” he said, adding his squad was complete without any injuries or suspension. Both Nigeria and the Lady Leopards from Congo DR scored six goals over two legs in the previous round, but Okon says: “[Congo DR] won’t be able to score goals when we meet on Saturday”.
Nigeria again have exciting talent, much of it promoted up from the team that played at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Trinidad and Tobago two years ago. But their key to success remains talents like Desire Oparanozie and Ebere Orji, who competed in Germany two years ago. Congo DR have sent former men’s national team coach Joseph Mukeba to Nigeria to assist Raphael Monsi on the bench, hoping a little more experience can help plot the downfall of their confident hosts.
The return legs will be played in Kinshasa and Accra on 18-20 May, and the winner of the home-and-away aggregate score will go through to Japan.