U-20 Women's World Cup: Can Nigeria and South Africa be shocked?

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Ahead of this weekend’s qualifiers, both are walking a tight rope after a poor outing in the first leg

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Since the launch of the Fifa U20 Women's World Cup in 2002, Nigeria and South Africa are few of the leading nations to have reached the final round of qualifiers in Africa. 

Both nations have enjoyed outright superiority, accounting for their strength, decades of development and indeed their popularity in the women's game.

However, their shaky first leg performance in their quest to qualify for ninth edition billed for France indicates an improved level of competition among women on the continent.

While impressive Ghana looks destined to reach the final round with Kenya 5-0 hammering, South Africa's bid to advance hang in the balance after 2-0 defeat in Burundi at Prince Louise Rwagasore Stadium.

The absence of captain Linda Mothlalo and Lalona Dakweti plus defensive errors were the southern Africans’ greatest undoing in the loss.

Nomsa Mahlangu, the Chairperson of SAFA Competitions Committee looked dazed by Basetsana's slight setback, attributing their first leg travail to the unavailability of key players, but is confident they can still overturn the deficit.

"I'm surprised but not shocked because women’s game is growing across the continent. This is when you play and anyone can win," Mahlangu told Goal.

"I believe that South Africa can comeback notwithstanding the ability of their opponents. As you are aware some of the regulars were missing in the first leg thus the second leg is an opportunity for both players and technical team to give their all.

"Unfortunately, I did not watch the first leg, thus my comment is only based on what I read about Burundi. The chances are 50-50% for any of the two teams."

In Nigeria’s case, it is the first time in the qualifying series’ history that her U20 women side had recorded a stalemate outside the country after a 1-1 draw in Morocco at Stade Boubker Ammar.

Before the encounter, the Falconets had never lost a match in the qualifiers, playing 38 games winning 36 and only drawing two - confirming their unrivaled supremacy in Africa. 

Nigeria- Flamingoes

Moses Bako, a Nigerian women's football advocate blamed the team's late arrival to Morocco and bad weather for their disappointing first-leg but believes they can triumph in Benin.

"It was sad we drew in the first leg match. We should have won in Morocco if the Nigeria Football Federation had taken the logistics seriously," Bako told Goal.

"The weather in the region is bad and the Falconets only left here on Friday morning to play on Sunday. Such arrangement for the girls was bad. Sadly, we have forgotten that Morocco have worked hard to upset Nigeria.

"I also heard that the Moroccans are good but I know some good players were missing from our team but are now back. So, I expect us to win playing in Benin."

South Africa (Bafana) fans

With the second leg ties around the corner, South Africa U20 women head coach Maud Khumalo will be relying on the return of key players to turn the table around against the east Africans.

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“We have a lot of work to do in preparation for this match. The trip to Burundi gave us an even clearer picture of what we are up against and now it is for us to give it our all and fight for a place in the next round of the qualifiers,” said Khumalo.

In Benin, coach Christopher Danjuma, who was without the services of Florence Ijamilusi and Charity Reuben in Morocco, will have them back for the showdown with the north Africans.

Regardless, the question begging for an answer is whether the African football powerhouses have all it takes to avoid upset at the Dobsonville and Samuel Ogbemudia stadia.

Well, we will confirm in few days time.

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