AT the 2008 edition of the FIFA U-17 Women World Cup held in New Zealand, the Flamingoes, as the Nigerian U-17 girls are called, were eliminated in the group stage after playing what was then described as the best entertaining game in the competition. Their last group game against Brazil ended 2-2 but was not enough to see the Nigerians through.
Two years ago in Trinidad and Tobago, the team made it to the quarterfinal but paid the big prize once again after failing to utilize the numerous scoring opportunities that came its way in the game against Korea.
In that match, the Nigerians quickly raced to a 2-0 lead only to squander it. They eventually crashed 5-6 to the Koreans in the game that went into extra time.
The stage is set once again for Nigeria to make history in the FIFA U-17 Women World Cup, but the girls must prove that they are equal to the task now that the juggle has matured.
Nigeria will trade tackles with Colombia today in the city of Baku for their last group game and two of the players, Sarah Nnodim and Oluchi Ofoegbu, are so sure that the team will not only progress to the knock out stage, but wins the trophy.
The Nigerians, who won their second group match beating the host Azerbaijan 11-0 on Tuesday, need a draw in this game to move to the next stage. The city of Baku hosted their first group match, which ended 1-1 against Canada. Nigeria now tops the group with four points as against Colombia’s three, but must avoid a defeat in today’s game. Canada with the four points is favoured to pick one of the group’s quarterfinal tickets in their game against the weeping girls, Azerbaijan.
Speaking to FIFA.com yesterday, the duo of Nnodim and Ofoegbu stated that they would do everything possible to take the team to the final and lift the trophy. They vowed never to allow the mistake of 2010 repeat itself in this year’s tourney.
“We lost in 2010 because of a lack of experience and a lack of concentration,” said confident centre-back Nnodim. “But we believe this time around we are able to pick up the trophy.”
Their quarterfinal exit in Trinidad and Tobago two years ago still plays on their minds, but Nnodim and Ofoegbu are planning to avoid such mistake this time around in Azerbaijan.
In 2010, the Flamingoes cruised through the first round, beating the hosts, reigning champions Korea DPR and Chile to top Group A with maximum points and scoring ten goals in the process. They squared up against Korea Republic in the quarterfinal in Marabella.
The game that followed was an absolute classic. Nigeria was 2-0 and 3-2 up in the first half, before needing an Ngozi Okobi strike at the death to force extra-time at 4-4. However Korea rallied, scoring twice more, and while Loveth Ayila got her second of the game-101 minutes after her first-it finished 6-5.
Ofoegbu admits to fond memories of their Caribbean adventure two years ago, but defeat has instilled a steely determination in the tenacious midfielder. “It was amazing at Trinidad and Tobago 2010. We lost that game because of a lack of concentration, but this time around I believe that we will make it up to ourselves.
“The game of football is all about experience, we believe we have learnt from our loss in 2010, so we have gained experience because of it and we will not let it happen again.”
As well as their mental growth over the past two years, the green-clad duo was unwavering in their assessment of their own technical and footballing development. In reply to whether they had improved as players, a synchronised and vigorous:
“Yes, very much so”, was their confident and crystal clear appraisal, and why not?
Azerbaijan 2012 has so far been a very positive tournament for Nigeria. Nnodim, the taller of the pair, presided over a tight defensive display in their 1-1 draw against CONCACAF U-17 Championship runners-up Canada, a game which they rattled the woodwork no less than four times. Ofoegbu meanwhile was a central cog in Tuesday’s 11-0 victory over the hosts, a result that neither can remember bettering but both agree can be improved on.
The well-built defensive midfielder’s belief that her understanding of the game and her team had improved couldn’t have been more evident with her assist for their second goal. When her electric pace allowed her to charge from midfielder and break through the backline, she instinctively looked for Halimatu Ayinde who was on hand to tap in her cross.
With the likes of Chinwendu Ihezuo, who got five and set up three, on form and the experience of fellow Trinidad and Tobago veterans Ayinde, captain Victoria Aidelomon and defender Ebere Okoye, Nigeria look in good shape to challenge.
Nnodim particularly feels this just could be their time. “We are ready for this tournament and we believe we will lift the trophy because this time we are prepared for it.”
Four years ago in New Zealand, the Nigerians started their last group game brightly but were unable to make the most of their opportunities.
Then, the squad had the likes of Ebere Orji, Amarachi Okoronkwo and Ngozi Okobi, who all had palpable chances to take the game, but for their missed chances.
At the end of the tie, the coach, late Felix Ibe Ukwu summed up the adventures of his team saying: “Football is all about opportunities. Once you have the opportunity you must utilise it, and if you don’t you pay for it.”
And at the last edition in 2010, the Flamingoes were again left ruing some misses in the game against Korea, which they could have won to progress to the semifinal.
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Flamingoes… Avoiding The Many Mistakes Of The Past