Featuring 17 teams and 36 matches, with two tickets to the global finals on off, the African qualifying campaign for the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup France 2018 kicks into gear on 21 July. First off, a two-legged preliminary round, with matches spaced two weeks apart, will pit Burundi against Djibouti, Libya against Sierra Leone, and Botswana against Kenya.
The winners of these three ties will then join the other competing teams in the first round, which will take place in mid-September. It is at this stage that powerhouses such as Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon will enter the fray. Two further knockout rounds will follow, until there are just two teams remaining.
The identity of the successful pair of nations will become clear at the end of January 2018, ahead of the ninth edition of the U-20 Women’s World Cup, which kicks off on 7 August. The tournament, which will be hosted by France, is scheduled to run until 26 August.
Nigeria, who have never missed an U-20 Women’s World Cup, will again be the team to beat during the qualifying phase. The Falconets have been drawn to face Tanzania in the opening round, and if the form book is respected, they should meet Senegal in the subsequent round and then a dangerous-looking South Africa side. The winner of that duel will secure one of the two available tickets for France 2018.
The other slot appears destined for Ghana, who have starred in the last four U-20 tournaments, and who will likely have to overcome the significant hurdle of Cameroon should they wish to make it five in a row.
Players to watch
Despite being the outstanding player and joint top goalscorer at the 2016 African U-17 Women’s World Cup Qualifying Tournament, Nigerian forward Rasheedat Ajibade was unable to make much of an impact on the finals themselves in Jordan, where she failed to get on the scoresheet. Understandably, she will be keen to make up for that disappointing experience during this upcoming campaign.
Cameroon, meanwhile, will rely on their rising star, Alexandra Takounda, who consistenly found the net at U-17 level. Since then, she has gained considerable experience and will be looking to make a name for herself during the qualifying tournament.
Ghana boast several talented players, such as their captain Sandra Owusu Ansah and their goalkeeper Kayza Massey, who helped them to advance from the group stage at Jordan 2016 – the only African team to reach the knockout rounds.
3 – Only three teams have represented Africa at the U-20 Women’s World Cup: Nigeria, Ghana, and Congo DR, with the latter taking part in 2006 and 2008 but opting not to enter this time around.
Did you know?
The winner of the Burundi-Djibouti preliminary tie will essentially skip to the second round, because Rwanda, the team they would have faced in the first round, have withdrawn.