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WOMEN'S FOOTBALL

Surprise winners, shock losers in 32-team World Cup group stage

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Morocco have etched their names in the history books by advancing to the knock-out stage of the FIFA Women's World Cup at the first attempt.

After Jamaica clinched a spot in the last 16 of the Women’s World Cup at the expense of soccer giants Brazil on Wednesday, one reporter suggested it made the Reggae Girlz the “Cinderella team” of the tournament.

Jamaica coach Lorne Donaldson, who rolled around the Melbourne pitch in celebration of the scoreless draw that secured their passage to the knockout rounds for the first time, was not certain how suitable the analogy was.

“Cinderella wears a pretty dress, so I don’t know,” he laughed.

“We’re going to take it one game at a time. If we can wear a pretty dress, we’ll put it on.”

There were plenty of other fairytales in the first two weeks of the tournament with Morocco, South Africa, Norway and co-hosts Australia the big group-stage winners.

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The losers? Germany, Brazil, Canada, the other co-hosts New Zealand, and China.

Morocco were expected to make an early exit as the 72nd-ranked team, but bounced back from a 6-0 defeat in their opener to become the lowest ranked side ever to make the knockout round with their 1-0 win over Colombia in Perth.

They still needed South Korea to prevent a Germany win in Thursday’s other group match and had a few nervous moments while waiting for the final whistle in Brisbane.

“We were praying, waiting for the result to come out of the Germany and Korea game,” said midfielder Anissa Lahmari. “It was a draw and afterwards it was a complete explosion of joy.”

The stunning upsets sent twice German champions packing in their first exit from the group stage in nine editions of the World Cup.

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Jamaican joy on Wednesday also meant despair for Brazil, who exited from the group stage for the first time since 1995, following Canada’s premature exit at the hands of co-hosts Australia on Monday.

That left the tournament without two of the game’s greatest players with Brazil striker Marta and Canada’s talisman captain Christine Sinclair, who both bowed out of their sixth World Cups in the worst possible way.

SHOT IN THE ARM

Australia’s chances were on a razor’s edge before they crushed Canada 4-0 without needing injured forward Sam Kerr, their leading scorer. Their advancement was a huge shot in the arm for the tournament after the loss of New Zealand.

Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson said in a post-match interview that he cried “tears of joy” after the match.

Their courageous win made Canada the first reigning Olympic champions to get knocked out in the group stage and the image of shell-shocked keeper Kailen Sheridan in tears before the final whistle captured Canada’s collective heartache.

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Revived Norway were a big group stage winner, brushing off a turbulent two weeks to squeeze into the knockout rounds on goal difference over New Zealand.

Winger Caroline Graham Hansen had apologised earlier in the tournament for an angry outburst in a TV interview after coach Hege Riise dropped her to the bench.

Norway’s advancement sealed New Zealand’s fate, despite the Football Ferns having edged the Norwegians 1-0 for their first win at a World Cup at the tournament’s opening match.

The game itself was a big winner in the island nation of five million people, with 42,958 fans squeezing into Auckland’s historic Eden Park for Portugal versus the U.S., the largest crowd for a soccer match in New Zealand.

Defending champions the United States did not lose a game in the group stage but scraping through to the knockout rounds in second place with a nervy 0-0 draw against debutants Portugal was hardly a “win” for a team used to dominating.

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South Africa are not used to dominating outside their own continent and the nation erupted in celebration after the Banyana Banyana knocked out Italy, quarter-finalists four years ago, to progress with their first ever World Cup win.

“You have lifted our spirits and made us immensely proud,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said on the messaging platform X, formerly known as Twitter. “Bring the cup home!”

China’s Steel Roses, once titans of women’s soccer with silver medals from the 1996 Olympics and 1999 World Cup, were shock losers in the group stage, bowing out in a 6-1 thumping by England.

Shui Qingxia, who coached the team to the Asian title last year, vowed China would regain its status after clearly falling behind the likes of England.

“We can see there’s a huge gap between us and the European teams,” Shui said.

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“We are not going to see this gap and do nothing, but rather we will do things like transition and balance and physicality.”

-Reuters

 

 

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Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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WOMEN'S FOOTBALL

Dominican Republic 2024:Flamingos land in the Dominican Republic!

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Nigeria’s U17 girls, Flamingos, have secured their ticket to the 8th FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup finals to be staged in the Dominican Republic later this year, after a 2-0 defeat of their Liberian counterparts at the MKO Abiola National Stadium, Abuja on Friday.

Victory took the aggregate tally to 6-1 in favour of Nigeria, with extraordinary poacher Harmony Chidi setting a record of 13 goals in a qualifying series that will be difficult to equal in years to come. She had 11 goals before kick-off, but netted the two goals of the evening to take Nigeria’s total of the series to a whopping 25. Central African Republic fell by a dozen goals while Burkina Faso fell 1-7 on aggregate.

Her first came after only four minutes when she sped past the Liberian defence to toe-poke the ball beyond the flailing arms of goalkeeper Makula Konneh from a cross by Shakirat Moshood.

A goal feast was expected, but this did not happen, as Peace Effiong had a close call in the 17th and Moshood rocked the crossbar a minute after from 20 yards. Moshood also missed from close range with 10 minutes left of the first half.

In the 56th minute, Moshood blasted beyond the goalpost when faced with Konneh, but Harmony Chidi made sure of her brace seven minutes later when she lashed the ball beyond Konneh’s reach as Nigeria seized the ball from a defensive slip-up by the visitors.

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The 8th FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup finals will be staged in the cities of Santiago de los Caballeros and Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, 16th October – 3rd November.

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WOMEN'S FOOTBALL

‘It shall be showers of goals’, vows Flamingos ahead of Liberia clash

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Head Coach Bankole Olowookere is confident that the Nigeria U17 girls, Flamingos, will not take their feet off the pedal when they take on their Liberian counterparts in a FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup final qualifying match in Abuja on Friday.

“We are battle-ready for the match on Friday. The girls are raring to go because they want to go to the World Cup. They are already dreaming of flying to the Dominican Republic.

“There is so much excitement in camp, and they are self-assured. However, I have warned them that it is never over until it is over. There should be no display of over-confidence on the pitch. We must approach the match like the first leg was a drawn game.”

Nigeria won the first leg 4-1 in Monrovia on Sunday, with 11-goal qualifying series revelation Harmony Chidi, Shakirat Moshood, Peace Effiong and substitute Blessing Ifitezue banging in the goals for the Flamingos. The hosts got their consolation goal off a penalty awarded with five minutes left of the encounter at the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex in Paynesville.

The Flamingos will take part in the FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup for the seventh time once they cross Friday’s hurdle.

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They featured at the inaugural edition in New Zealand in 2008, and subsequently at Trinidad and Tobago 2010, Azerbaijan 2012, Costa Rica 2014, Jordan 2016 and India 2022, where they won the bronze medals.  

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WOMEN'S FOOTBALL

Flamingos hammer hosts Liberia 4-1, put one leg in World Cup finals

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FIFA World Cup bronze medallists Nigeria routed Liberia 4-1 in a fast-paced FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup final qualifying round, first leg encounter in Monrovia on Sunday.

The Flamingos got off to a pretty quick start at the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex at the Paynesville, but the Liberian girls, who shocked Senegal on the away-goal rule to reach this final round, warded off the early threats.

Nigeria got the ball into the net after 14 minutes, but Chadian referee Lare Lamngar ruled it off. Not to be deterred or discouraged, the Flamingos poured forward once again, and in the 19th minute, Shakirat Moshood opened the scoring from a sweet solo run.

Peace Effiong, who got a brace in the 6-0 defeat of Burkina Faso at the MKO Abiola National Stadium last month, scored in the 29th minute to put a wedge of respect between the two teams.

Usual suspect Harmony Chidi, scorer of six of the 12 goals that sank the Central African Republic, and who equally netted four in the 7-1 dismissal of Burkina Faso in the last round, headed home her 11th goal of the qualifying series in the 36th minute to put daylight between both teams.

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On resumption, Nigeria continued to dominate, and substitute Blessing Ifitezue made it four with 16 minutes left.

Liberia scored a consolation goal with five minutes left, from the penalty spot, through Yassah Gwaikolo, after substitute Onyedikachi Ekezie was adjudged to have committed a foul in the area.

The Flamingos will return to Nigeria on Tuesday, and immediately commence preparations for the return leg encounter scheduled for Friday at the MKO Abiola National Stadium, Abuja.

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