by Emmanuel Faith (26/10/22)
Above: Vicky Lopez celebrates her winning goal against Japan in the quarter-finals. Photo: FIFA.
The Women’s Under-17 World Cup might not be one of the most spotlighted female tournaments, but this was the competition that gave future superstars Alexandra Popp, Jordan Nobbs, Mana Iwabuchi, and the current Ballon d’Or holder, Alexia Putellas.
This year’s edition is being hosted by India who were also debutants alongside Tanzanians and Morocco and it has been an exhilarating tournament so far.
The tournament opened with the U.S.A showing why they are one of the best football nations in the world, hammering the host eight goals to nothing, while Brazil slightly edged the African debutants Morocco by an early strike scored in the fifth minute by the Brazilian striker, I.A Borges de Morais ensuring the South American champions kicked off the tournament with a win.
The second round of matches saw the CONCACAF champions lock horns with the Brazilians. The match ended in a 1-1 draw and both goals were produced in the space of eight minutes. Nicollete Kiorpes slotted home her first goal of the tournament after a dazzling run from the Nigeria-eligible American starlet, Onyeka Paloma Gamero however this lead was short-lived as Ana Carolina Firminho fired home an audacious strike after pouncing on a loose ball at the edge of the American box. African debutants Morocco, picked up their first victory in the tournament, and the three-nil defeat almost sealed the hosts’ exit from the competition.
India ended winless as they lost heavily to Brazil and America clipped the claws of Morocco with another goal-scoring spree to ensure they topped the group on a better goal difference.
The group opened with Chile picking their first three points against New Zealand with a 3-1 victory, but the more interesting match was the matchup between the European giants, Germany, and the Super Falconets of Nigeria.
Both teams displayed quality as both keepers recorded brilliant saves within the first fifteen minutes of the match. After a keenly contested half an hour, the Nigerian defender Miracle Usani, fired home a ferocious strike with a free-kick. The Germans however equalized from a beautifully worked corner slotted home by Svea Stold in the 49th minute. They would score the winning goal twelve minutes later as a defensive error enabled Mara Alber pick a beautiful spot to curl her powerful finish.
The second round of matches saw a torrent of goals as the Germans swept the Chileans away with six, while the Nigerians compounded the woes of the New Zealand with a 4-0 victory.
The final round of group games saw Germany already guaranteed as the group winner while the runner-up slot was going to be snatched by the winner of Chile against Nigeria. The Falconets scored an early goal in the fourth minute through Ngozi Emmanuel’s strike, however, they found it really difficult to add to their tally as the Chilean goalkeeper Melladoo Alvarado pulled off magnificent saves, as strikers Ajakaye and Bello hit the bar. The much-needed second goal came through Bisola Mosaku and was quite timely as Chile would later get a rather debatable penalty in the 91st minute as the game ended 2-1 in favor of the Africans.
The matches in this group opened with narrow victories for China who pipped Mexico 2-1 and Spain who edged the Colombians by a goal to nothing.
The group however took an interesting turn on game day two, when the Colombians beat China 2-0 through an early brace from the versatile striker Linda Caicedo, while the Mexicans got a late 2-1 victory over the brilliant Spanish. These results meant that any of the four teams could pick up the quarter-final ticket in the last group stage matches.
Despite having 73% possession against China, the Spanish could only muster a single goal and this was enough to see them through the group stages. Colombia pipped the Mexico to pick up the second slot with Linda scoring for both sides.
Japan opened the group with a 4-0 win over Tanzania, taking advantage of the red card the Tanzanians received, sending a wave of warning to the rest of the group while Canada had to settle for a 1-1 draw against France with both goals scored in the space of six minutes.
The second match gave the first surprise of the group as Tanzania got three points from France with a 2-1 victory in a physically combative match that had two penalties and a last-minute red card. Japan continued their dominance with a 4-0 win over Canada, this meant that Tanzania had a shot at a quarter-finals ticket with a draw in their last match, a result they got against Canada. Japan beat France 2-0 to continue their dominance, becoming the second country after Germany to pick up the maximum points available in the group stage.
With eight countries departing from the competition, the battle became more intense as eight countries from five different continents locked horns for the semi-finals ticket. It was the second time that Africa had two representatives at this stage of this tournament with Ghana making it to the semi-finals and clinching a third-place finish in 2012. Both Nigeria and Tanzania came into the quarter-finals hoping to at least match this record, an almost insurmountable task for both teams given the quality of their opponents.
USA v Nigeria:
For most pundits, this was predicted to be the most dynamic match-up. The compact shield of the Falconets’ defence getting tested by the ferocious attack of the young Americans.
It was the Africans who scored first when Josephine Edafe converted a penalty awarded by VAR, it however took the USA just fifteen minutes to get an equalizer. After a lot of huffing and puffing by the Americans, the match headed to penalties where the Falconets edged the Americans by four goals to three, a record-breaking result for the star-lights who reached the semi-finals for the first time in the competition.
Germany v Brazil:
This was a match that could swing either way depending on who gathered the momentum first. The Germans grabbed the opening goal in the 23rd minute with a brilliant finish from Marie Steiner. The Brazilian might have felt they deserved an equalizer after Goherte headed a looping corner but VAR ruled out the goal for an offside. Both sides created a lot of chances, however, it was the Germans who had the final say with a last-kick goal scored by Melina Kruga.
Chile v Tanzania:
This was the only quarterfinal that looked like it could be one-way traffic. Conceding two quick goals in the first twenty minutes and a 23rd-minute red card by the Tanzanians ensured Chile had the smoothest ride to the semi-finals where they would be playing another African team. A 36th-minute penalty sealed the victory for Chile.
Japan v Spain
For any neutral football fan, this was the most exciting quarter-final tie. A match-up meant we had the chance to witness the Japanese sizzling style of play with flair and maestro movements go against the Spanish’ traditional tiki-taka played at a faster pace.
Both teams turned on the heat from the first minute as both goal-keepers were called to action multiple times and made crucial saves within the first 20 minutes, however, it was the Spanish who had the chance to go ahead when Toko Koga fouled the Spanish striker, Carla Camacho in the box and was awarded a penalty. The striker surprisingly skied the penalty over the bar, leaving her teammates crestfallen.
After a keenly contested 60 minutes, it was the Japanese striker Momoko Tanikawa who put her team ahead through a goal of the tournament contender to take the early lead however the defending champions kept on knocking hard on the Japanese defense until they caved in the 87th minute when Vicky Lopez equalized with a shot after pouncing on a loose ball in the penalty box to make it all square.
The match was heading towards penalties until the Barcelona wonderkid Lopez glided her way through the tired Japanese defense and slotted a calm finish home to set up an all-European semi-final.
The two semi-finals will see Nigeria aim to be the first African country to reach the finals of the competition while Spain are gunning for a second consecutive final against Germany, being the second country to achieve that after Japan.
The semi-finals promise to be exciting and we can’t wait to see which superstars will evolve and break out from this competition.