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WOMEN'S FOOTBALL

England-Spain final to round off record-breaking Women’s World Cup

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FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia and New Zealand 2023 - England Training - Central Coast Stadium, Gosford, Australia - August 19, 2023 England's Alessia Russo with teammates during training REUTERS/Hannah Mckay

England and Spain go head-to-head in the final of the Women’s World Cup on Sunday, capping off a tournament that has broken attendance and TV records and raised hopes of a surge in interest for the women’s game.

Co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand, the ninth edition of the global showpiece event was the first to be held in the southern hemisphere and has already broken attendance records.

While local interest ebbed when Australia exited in the semi-finals, some 2 million fans will have passed through the gates in nine host cities by the time Sunday’s final kicks off at Stadium Australia in Sydney at 8 p.m. (1000 GMT).

 FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia and New Zealand 2023 – Spain Training – Stadium Australia, Sydney, Australia – August 19, 2023 Spain players during training REUTERS/Hannah Mckay Acquire Licensing Rights

Australia’s semi-final loss to England on Wednesday drew an average of 7.13 million viewers on the channels of local broadcaster Seven Network, the highest viewership ever recorded by research firm OzTAM, which launched in 2001.

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Matildas matches sold out months in advance, and organisers expect the average attendance to overtake 30,000 once all 64 matches are completed.

The last Women’s World Cup in France four years ago attracted more than 1.1. million fans to 52 matches with an average crowd of 21,756.

Demand was weaker in New Zealand, whose team went out in the group stages. FIFA gave away thousands of tickets and some games attracted as few as 7,000 fans, although White Ferns matches broke records for a soccer crowd in the country.

FUNDING GAP

Australia’s players, who lost 2-0 in a third-place playoff match to Sweden on Saturday, will earn $165,000 each in prize money for this tournament, more than 300 times the A$750 ($480) they received for a quarter-final appearance in 2015.

But at the grassroots level, the sport needs more resources, Matildas striker Sam Kerr said after the loss to England on Wednesday.

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“We need funding in our development, we need funding in our grassroots,” she said.

“We need funding, you know, we need funding everywhere.”

The Matildas’ standout World Cup campaign has led to calls for more support to women’s soccer in Australia, where it lags more popular football codes like rugby league and Australian rules.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese responded on Saturday by promising A$200 million for women’s sport in the wake of the Matildas’ run to the semi-finals.

Albanese said the money would be used to improve sports facilities for women and girls, with soccer tipped to receive “significant resourcing”.

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The government also wants to ensure women’s sporting events are available on free-to-air television, after criticism that most World Cup games not involving Australia were behind a paywall.

Women’s soccer has also confronted a variety of challenges involving finalists England and Spain, who will both be chasing a first world title in Sydney on Sunday.

Women were banned from official facilities in England, the home of the game, until 1970, and have long lagged the men’s team in interest and funding, although that began to change after the Lionesses won the European championship last year.

The Spanish team, meanwhile, has been rocked by a locker room dispute with coach Jorge Vilda and the Spanish football federation, with some of their best players absent from the tournament as a result.

-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

Nigeria’s Flamingos drawn against debuting hosts in FIFA U-17 World Cup

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The Flamingos, Nigeria’s U-17 women’s football team have been drawn against hosts, Dominican Republic for the finals of the Women’s U-17 World Cup holding from 16 October to 3 November in two host cities of Santo Domingo  and Santiago de los Caballeros.

 Both Nigeria and Dominican Republic are drawn in Group A along with Ecuador and New Zealand.  In Group B are Spain, USA, Korea Republic and Colombia.

Group C has  Korea DPR, Mexico, Kenya and England while those competing in Group D are  Japan , Poland, Brazil and Zambia.

The hosts will make their debut in the competition on 16 October against Ecuador in Santiago de los Caballeros, with New Zealand and Nigeria completing Group A.

Herrera, the first Dominican woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest, had a special message for her compatriots taking part in the World Cup. She said: “I am the living example that you can achieve your dreams. So, keep up the good work. I am looking forward to seeing those amazing games.”

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Reigning champions Spain, meanwhile, will kick off their campaign in Group B, in which they will face USA, Korea Republic and Colombia, runners-up last time around.

“The advice to all the players that will participate here is to be confident and go live your dream. ¡Y Buena suerte!” said Flores, who took part in this tournament two years ago in India.

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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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‘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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