From no-spot to third-spot: Nigeria’s Flamingos delight in historic World Cup bronze
Beaten on the away goal-rule by Cameroon (3-3 aggregate after 2-2 in Benin City and 1-1 in Yaounde), Nigeria’s U17 girls, Flamingos missed participating in the FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup finals for the first time in year 2018.
The girls had featured at the inaugural edition of the FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup in New Zealand, and after a win (over South Korea), loss (to England) and draw (with Brazil) in Wellington and Christchurch, they flew back after the group phase. Two years later, the Flamingos reached the quarter finals at the second edition in Trinidad and Tobago after beating North Korea, hosts Trinidad and Tobago and Chile for maximum points in the group. But they lost to eventual winners South Korea in a quarter-final match in Marabella.
Two years later, in Azerbaijan, the Flamingos drew 1-1 with Canada, thumped hosts Azerbaijan 11-0 and hit Colombia 3-0 to reach the quarter-finals. However, France won a penalty shootout 5-3 in Baku after both teams had failed to find target in regulation time.
In 2014, another impressive group stage campaign (2-1 defeat of China, 2-1 defeat of Colombia and 3-0 defeat of Mexico) ended with a 3-0 defeat by Spain in the quarter-finals.
In 2016, Jordan were the hosts. The Flamingos were back home after losing to Brazil and North Korea and drawing with England.
There was no competition in 2020 because of the global coronavirus pandemic.
Before arriving in India, Coach Bankole Olowookere’s girls had pounded Democratic Republic of Congo 3-0 in Kinshasa and 5-0 in Benin City, and prevailed over Egypt 4-0 in Abuja and 2-0 in Cairo. In their final qualification fixture, they pipped Ethiopia 1-0 in Addis Ababa and the second leg in Abuja ended scoreless.
After a 10-day final camping programme in the Turkish city of Kocaeli, Olowookere said: “We will be facing a tough task out there in India but I believe that if we play as a team, we can get something out of the World Cup. I have a group of girls who are ambitious and they fear no team. This could stand us in good stead in India.”
After going one goal up against Germany in Goa on the first day of the tournament, the Flamingos capitulated 2-1, but refused to bow their heads. They spanked New Zealand 4-0 with some scintillating displays also in Goa and edged Chile 2-1 in Bhubaneswar to reach the knockout stage.
Against the USA in the quarter-finals in Navi Mumbai, team spirit and team work were important to keep the scoreline 1-1 and take the session to penalties. Substitute goalkeeper Linda Jiwuaku, brought in for the shootout, saved one of the kicks and an American player fluffed her kick to give Nigeria victory.
Back in Goa, another penalty shootout was needed against Colombia in the semi-finals. With the Flamingos ahead and a kick from glory, defender Omamuzo Edafe, who scored the penalty kick during play and the winner in the shootout against USA, saw her kick crash against the upright. Nigeria lost in sudden death when defender Comfort Folorunsho lost her kick.
The third-place match also had to be settled via penalty shootout, after the Flamingos conceded three goals in the last 18 minutes to tie the game 3-3. Victory in the shootout, despite defender Tumininu Adeshina’s miss, earned Nigeria a historic third-place at the finals after being nowhere near the last tournament in Uruguay.
“We give God the glory. It was a roller-coaster but we learnt a lot of lessons and it will help the players as they graduate to other levels of the National Team. We strove hard to get our hands on the trophy but we will take the bronze medals for now and return home to go and prepare hard for the next edition,” Coach Olowookere said.