We were penalty kicks away from the first African team reaching the semi-finals at the World Cup earlier this month. Today, Nigeria’s U-20 Women’s World Cup team defeated the United States on penalty kicks in the quarter-finals of the fifth edition of that competition, and became the first African nation to reach the semi-finals of any FIFA women’s competition.
It also marks the first time the United States has failed to reach the semi-finals of the U-20 Women’s World Cup; despite an outstanding tournament from forward Sydney Leroux, the US team seemed to lack a spark and looked vulnerable at the back in its games.
But the big achievement here is for African women’s football. Ghana were the other African team in the tournament, and acquitted themselves well — they tied 1-1 with the US in their first game, showing an impressive combination of power and skill, the US having to work extremely hard to equalise in the second half. Though Ghana then lost 4-2 to a strong South Korea team, they beat Switzerland 2-0 in their last game to finish third in the group.
Nigeria, meanwhile, tied with both England and Mexico, and beat Japan 2-1 to reach the quarter-final stage, where they will face Colombia and have a very good chance of reaching the semi final stage (incidentally, Colombia became the second South American country to reach the semi-finals of the U-20 Women’s World Cup). Given the mess that is the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) and their management of both men’s and women’s national teams, reaching the semi-finals is all the more impressive for the “Super Falconets” in that context, with a notable lack of financial and administrative support from the NFF.
Still, to the NFF’s credit, the senior Nigeria team has long been the strongest in Africa, one of a handful of countries to reach all five Women’s World Cup tournaments, and dominant in African continental competition. Next summer in Germany, we might well see an African women’s team become the first African team to reach the semi-finals of a senior FIFA World Cup tournament.