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Grainey: Africa making strides at youth women’s levels

The past few weeks have been busy times for women’s soccer at the youth level, and there are promising piece of news coming out of Africa at the youth women’s levels. Here’s the latest:

Finalists Determined in 2014 U-17 Women’s World Cup — The final 16-team field is now set for the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Costa Rica next spring, which runs from March 15 through April 4. Along with hosts Costa Rica, Canada and Mexico are the other two CONCACAF representatives. Colombia, Paraguay and Venezuela qualified from CONMEBOL, along with Ghana, Nigeria and Zambia from Africa. From Asia: China PR, Korea DPR and Japan are through as is New Zealand from Oceania. The three European representatives are Germany, Italy and Spain. Italy and Zambia are both making their first appearances at a Women’s U-17 World Cup.

U-20 Women’s World Cup Qualification Tournament Update from Africa — For the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Canada next summer, Africa cut down the number of possible nations from eight to four last month. The upcoming semifinal round will determine the two African qualifiers.

Ghana advanced to the semifinals in a walkover after Uganda withdrew from the quarterfinals. South Africa defeated Tanzania 4-1 away in the first leg and had no trouble in the return home leg on Dec. 21, winning 5-0 for a 9-1 aggregate victory. Nigeria defeated Tunisia 4-0 at home in their first leg as well as in the return in North Africa to go through on aggregate 8-0 on Dec. 22.

Equatorial Guinea won 2-0 over Zambia away in the first leg but, as always, had to deal with complaints from their opponents. Usually the full national team must face allegations of age irregularities, gender challenges, and claims of illegally recruiting players from abroad for national team duty. Now it is the youth team’s turn: the Football Federation of Zambia was upset that nine Equatorial Guinea players arrived for the first leg in Zambia with new passports.

FAZ executive member Lenny Nkhuwa was appalled, explaining that: “We are concerned by Equatorial Guinea coming here with so many new passports. So we will ask FIFA to just look into this matter. They are African champions and been to the World Cup before, but how passports get to be new for so many players at one time is a worrying matter.”

Despite the controversy, coach Charles Bwale remained resolute about his side’s chances of making the last round of qualifiers, declaring it is far from over: “We shall go to Equatorial Guinea and fight. We lost quite fine but what happened here can be undone there. We noticed a problem and after the substitution, we played better, especially in the second half. Overall I am not disappointed with the girls; they fought well and they can keep fighting. We shall go there [Equatorial Guinea] and follow a system that helped us play better after conceding the two goals. The girls will just have to be reminded to play from the ground and not pump those balls upfront, which just put us under pressure. We still have a chance and we shall fight on.”

Zambia was confident in the improvement of the women’s youth national teams, with their U-17 side qualifying for the FIFA World Cup in Costa Rica next spring—a first global tournament for any Zambian women’s side. Unfortunately, despite Bwale’s confidence, that success did not transfer to their U-20 side and Zambia lost the return leg 4-0 to the experienced Equatorial Guinea side, to drop the tie 6-0 on aggregate. Equatorial Guinea now hopes that they can win one more series on the field—against Ghana this month—and keep the naysayers quiet off the field at the same time.

In the other semifinal, Nigeria plays South Africa, with both semifinal winners advancing to Canada this summer. Seven teams have qualified for Canada so far: the hosts; China RP, Korea DPR, and Korea Republic from Asia; and England, Finland, France, and Germany from Europe.

Note: Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea won their first leg home ties in the CAF U-20 semifinals last weekend. Nigeria routed South Africa 6-0 and Equatorial Guinea takes a narrow 1-0 advantage to Ghana for the second leg. Nigeria has qualified for all previous FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup finals. Both semifinal deciders will be held on June 24th.

The United States, Mexico and Costa Rica will join host Canada from CONCACAF after qualifying last week in the Cayman Islands.

CAF 2014 Women’s Championships Has Record Entry — At the senior national team level, there is good news coming from Africa as a record 25 nations will compete for a place at the 2014 CAF Women’s Championships in Namibia from Oct. 11-25, 2014. For the ninth edition of the tournament, three teams were given byes for the first home-and-away round, based on their placing at the previous tournament: reigning champions Equatorial Guinea, runners-up South Africa and third place Cameroon.

Qualifiers start with the first leg on Feb. 13-15, with the returns on Feb. 28-March 2. The second round will be played in two legs, from May 23-25 with the returns on June 6-8. The seven aggregate winners from these games advance to the final along with host Namibia. This is an improvement over the 19 national teams who participated in the African Women’s World Cup qualifiers in 2011 but still less than half (45 percent) of the 56 members of the African Football Confederation—two of which are associate members: Reunion and Zanzibar, who are not full FIFA members.

Let’s hope that all 25 nations compete without the frequent withdrawals that take place, due to funding shortages or other issues that frequently take place in African tournaments—both for men and women. The first round matches are:

Algeria versus Morocco
Egypt versus Tunisia
Ethiopia versus South Sudan
Burkina Faso versus Ghana
Ivory Coast versus Mali
Rwanda versus Kenya
Nigeria versus Sierra Leona
Guinea Bissau versus Senegal
Mozambique versus Comoros
Botswana versus Zimbabwe
Zambia versus Tanzania

Of particular note, South Sudan is entering their first continental women’s championship at any level.

Jordan and South Africa awarded FIFA women’s tournaments — FIFA has picked Jordan and South Africa as future hosts of FIFA women’s youth tournaments in 2016, with Jordan to host the U-17 Women’s World Cup and South Africa to host the U-20 Women’s World Cup. The announcement was made as part of the FIFA Executive Committee meetings in Brazil late last year. This is an extremely important announcement for the growth of the global game.

In addition to the two tournaments, Jordan and South Africa will also host conferences involving former players, as well as coaches and referees, who will discuss how valuable the sport is to their well-being. Convincing national federations to spend more money on the women’s side, as well as parents that their daughters should play the sport, is part of the struggle the game faces, especially still in West Asia and Africa. These tournaments—the first for FIFA women’s tournaments in either region—will be a strong endorsement of FIFA’s commitment to the development of the women’s game globally.

Tim Grainey is a contributor to The Equalizer. His latest book Beyond Bend it Like Beckham was released in 2012.

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