Can Flamingos fly high in India?

Can Flamingos fly high in India?


Anthony Nlebem

The U-17 Women’s World Cup begins in India today with 16 countries vying for the top prize. Anthony Nlebem takes a look at the chances of the Flamingos, who engage Germany in a crunch clash in their opening tie of the competition

The Flamingos begin their quest for glory at the 2022 U-17 Women’s World Cup in India on Tuesday (today) when they battle Germany in their first match at the Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Margao.

The young Nigerian girls are in Group B alongside the Germans, Chile and New Zealand at the competition, which ends October 30.

Both countries take to the Pandit Jawaharlal Stadium in Goa as from 8pm India time (4pm Nigeria time) in what is the second match of Group B, at the same time as hosts India take on USA at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar in what is the official opening match of the competition.

Earlier, as from 12.30pm Nigeria time, Nigeria’s group B opponents Chile and New Zealand will clash in Goa, while group A teams Morocco and Brazil also battle it out in Bhubaneswar.

The biennial competition for the world’s teenage girl-child, launched in New Zealand in 2008, did not take place in the year 2020 as a result of the global coronavirus pandemic.

This year’s edition is the seventh since the competition’s inception in 2008, with the Flamingos, despite qualifying regularly for the tournament, never having gone past the quarter-finals.

The Flamingos, who have featured in every tournament since 2008, except the 2018 edition staged by Uruguay, defeated DR Congo, Egypt and Ethiopia in the African qualifiers to land in India.

They were quarter-finalists in 2010, 2012 and 2014 editions, and will hope to hit the ground running from the opening day of the tournament against to guarantee a good outing in the Asian nation.

In preparation for this year’s tournament, coach Bankole Olowookere’s side spent 10 days camping in Turkey, where they played two friendly games, defeating Galatasaray 3-1 with a brace from forward Edidiong Etim and the other from top scorer in the qualifiers Opeyemi Ajakaye.

However, they lost their second friendly 3-1 to Fenerbahce.

Speaking ahead of today’s cracker against Germany, the head coach of Nigeria’s U17 girls, the Flamingos, Bankole Olowookere, said his girls were ready to take on their European opponents, despite their favourites tag.

At the last edition in Uruguay in 2018, Germany scooped most of the individual honours, with Clàudia Pina emerging player of the tournament and Catalina Coll the best goalkeeper.

Pina also shared the top scorer award with Ghana’s Mukarama Abdulai, both scoring seven goals each.

“This is the World Cup and we played so many matches to qualify. The German team and Nigeria are coming here for the first time, but at the same time we are the powerhouse of football in Africa,” Olowookere said on NFF TV.

“We have been watching the Germans closely and strategising, we have equal legs on the field of play.

“We respect the Germans, but when we get to the field of play, we will drop the respect and play our game.”

Olowookere is confident his girls know what they are up against at the Pandit Jawaharlal Stadium.

He added, “We are excited to be starting the tournament by playing against one of the strongest women’s teams in the universe. It is a good challenge because if you’re going to win trophies, you must beat the best teams.

“Our focus is on getting the three points at stake, which will boost our confidence for the remaining games of the group phase and going forward in the competition.

“Playing a strong team at the beginning should not present any apprehension. It is an opportunity to start with your best team and best tactics, and be vigilant to utilize the opportunities and possibilities that present themselves within the 90 minutes,” Olowookere added.

Flamingos captain Alvine Dah Zossu, after close monitoring of their opponents ahead of today’s faceoff, is optimistic they can contain the Germans.

“Yes, we have watched a lot of our opponents’ games, Germany to be precise and we are playing them in our first match. We studied them a lot and the coaches have given us instructions. We have been working on how to outplay them.”

Nigeria must avoid the quicksand that sucked them in the way back in their last appearance in 2016, when they lost 1-0 to Brazil, drew with England and then got hammered by eventual champions North Korea to crash out at the group stage.

Eucharia Uche, former head coach of the Super Falcons, is confident the young Nigerian girls, will put up a good World Cup outing and surpass the country’s quarter-final plague.

“It’s unfortunate that no Nigerian or African team have been able to break that quarter-final jinx at the U-17 Women’s World Cup till date. But I believe with the crop of players in the Nigerian team for the World Cup, they know what it means to make a name for themselves and supersede what their predecessors did.”

On their opening tricky tie versus Germany, Uche, an ex-Falcons star, added, “There is no team in the world that cannot be beaten; it’s just for the girls to believe in themselves, that they can do it.”

Stella Mbachu, another former Falcons star, believes with the caliber of players and coaches in the Nigerian team, the last eight ‘curse’ will be broken.

“Yes, they can do it, I believe in the technical crew, and this time around, they can do it.

“They have the opportunity to do it after missing out in the last edition in 2018, I believe the technical crew will do everything to make sure the team succeeds in India,” Mbachu stated.

Morocco and Tanzania are the other countries who will fly Africa’s flag in India.

The U-17 tournament has produced stars for the senior team with Rasheedat Ajibade, who now plays in the Spanish Primera División for Atlético de Madrid and China-based forward Vera Ihezuo notable mentions.