ABUJA – When Nigeria’s under-20 women football team begin their campaign at the 2014 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup, they will be expecting to enjoy immensely from their wealth of experience.
However, the Falconets will not only have experience to count on but pedigree also to speak for them in Canada at this seventh edition from Aug. 4 to Aug. 25.
At the competition holding in four Canadian cities, the Falconets have appeared in the tournament as many times as other counterparts such as Brazil, Germany and the U.S.
Having debuted at Canada in 2002, and having not missed any edition since then, the Nigerian team look to be the best in Group C against Mexico, Korea Republic and England.
They qualified for the quarter-finals at Russia 2006 and Chile 2008, after failing to advance to the knockout stages in their previous two attempts at Canada 2002 and Thailand 2004,
They have gone on to make it to the semi-finals at Germany 2010 and Japan 2012.
At Germany 2010, they lost to the hosts in the semi-final match and in the 2012 edition they also lost the third-place play-off match to the hosts.
In Canada this time around, they now have the benefit of having many of their players who participated at Japan in 2012, and they were involved in the team’s qualifiers.
To their benefit again, no fewer than a dozen of the Falconets had previously represented Nigeria at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Azerbaijan two years ago.
Among them is Uchechi Sunday who was selected for the Super Falcons at the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2011.
With such wealth of experience, much will therefore be expected from Nigeria’s first match, holding at the Moncton Stadium on Wednesday against Mexico.
Both teams will be taking it from where they left it off in the Japan 2012 quarter-finals, when Nigeria defeated Mexico after extra time following a goalless 90-minute period.
Mexico missed out on Thailand 2004, but they participated in the other five previous editions of the competition and they seemed to have progressively improved.
While the Nigerian side qualified for Canada 2014 scoring 31 goals without conceding any, Mexico were also impressive in the qualifiers scoring 19 goals and conceded only one goal.
They will hope to take advantage of the predatory instincts of 16-year-old Tanya Samarzich, hoping also to shock Nigeria’s pool of experienced players.
The Nigerian team’s preparation for the tournament could not be enhanced by a training tour as planned, owing to the FIFA ban on Nigeria Football Association (NFA) on July 9.
The Falconets left the country on a tour of Canada in two batches on July 24 and July 25, after the ban was lifted on July 18.
However, the question of its effect on the team’s preparation will still remain unanswered until Aug. 25.
“Though we couldn’t embark on the training tour on time, I am optimistic the trainings the team got here in Abuja is equivalent to being on a pre-tournament tour.
“ The girls are mentally and physically fit, and they are ready to take on the world,’’ team head coach Peter Dedevbo has however said assuredly.
Whatever happens, the team should still go beyond the first round group stage, in view of their experience.
Their pedigree and the matter of luck should now come into force after the first round.
Nigeria will fly Africa’s flag high in the 16- nation tournament alongside west African counterparts Ghana, who were drawn in Group A alongside Canada, Finland and Korea DPR.(NAN)