By JOHN EGBOKHAN
The attention of women football followers will again shift to Azerbaijan today as the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup kicks off , with Nigeria’s Flamingoes facing Canada in one of the four Group matches set to hold in the Eastern European nation. The dominant religion is Islam and Azerbaijani people are famous for their hospitality.
In other matches holding today, North Korea tackle Gambia, France play United States of America while hosts Azerbaijan confront Colombia in front of their passionate home supporters.
For the Flamingos, today’s game against Canada at the Baku Stadium, offers them the chance to show their goals-scoring form against their north American opponents, who have had previous experience of the tournament and will be aiming to reach the semi-finals for the first time
The Flamingoes have been a constant feature at the tournament. At the last edition held in Trinidad & Tobago, they became the first African nation to qualify from the group phase, bowing out in the quarterfinals.
Coach Peter Dedevbo, who was also in charge of the team, two years ago, knows that the challenge this time around is to at least reach the semifinal stage. The 42-year-old would be relying on the likes of Sarah Nnodim, Victoria Aidelomon, Oluchi Ofoegbu, Halimatu Ayinde and Ebere Okoye, five players who featured at the last edition in Trinidad and Tobago.
Nigeria’s opponents, Canada are the only CONCACAF team who have played in every edition of the tournament. At New Zealand 2008, the Canadians bowed out of the competition after a quarter-final, losing to Germany, who finished in third-place.
For Africa’s third representative, Ghana, they will be boosted by the presence of defender Ellen Coleman, a reliable and potent veteran at this level, who remarkably will be making her third trip to a FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup.
By any stretch of the imagination, it is going to be a three-week party, a party on a scale possibly never seen before at a U-17 World Cup!, given the strong field at this year’s event. Azerbaijan 2012 is shaping up to be an unmissable event.
It definitely has a lot to live up to after the success stories of the past edition. And the alluring line-up of team, waiting to strut their stuff from today to October 13, suggests that it could indeed be set to reach new heights.
N. Korea v Gambia 9am
France v USA 11am
Nigeria v Canada 1pm
Azerbaijan v Colombia 4pm