- Friday, 06 July 2012
- Written by Modou Lamin Beyai
The Gambia has been drawn in Group B in the 2012 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup to be held in Azerbaijan from 22 September to 13 October.
The draw took place today at the International Mugam Centre in Baku and it ended a nervous wait for the 16 qualified nations as they discovered the identity of their rivals in the group phase.
The Girl Scorpions were drawn in Group B alongside France, USA and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The Gambia was represented in the draw by Head Coach Buba K Jallow and Mariama Sowe.
The draw was presided over by Tatjana Haenni; FIFA’s Head of Women’s Competitions and carried out by Dutch star Ronald de Boer, big name of the Dutch football, Azerbaijan coach Berti Vogts as well as two stars from the Azerbaijan U-17 women’s team: Amina Heydarova and Aysun Aliyeva.
Gambia have never qualified a women’s team for a major championship before, and they had never even entered a team in the U-17 preliminaries before. So the success of Coach Buba Jallow’s team earlier this year was a pleasant surprise for the country.
The country did not have a FIFA-recognized youth national team until 2012, when the Gambia under-17 women’s team competed in Confederation of African Football qualifiers for the FIFA U-17 World Cup.
Gambia had fielded an under-17 team of 24 players, narrowed from an initial pool of 49 young women. The Girls Scorpions first played Sierra Leone in a pair of qualifying matches for the tournament in which they won 3-0 at home.
The return match was delayed in for 24 hours and played in Makeni and they beat Sierra Leone 4-3 to qualify for the final round. They then beat Tunisia 1-0 at home and won 2-1 in Tunisia with Adama Tamba and Awa Demba scoring the goals while Tunisia’s only goal was an own goal.
Although they will no doubt be considered outsiders at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup, the Gambian team will be buoyed by the win over Tunisia, particularly after they came from a goal behind in the away leg.
The Gambia plays its first Group B match at the 15,000 capacity Eighth Kilometer District Stadium in Nizami raion, Baku, opening its tournament on Sept. 22 against North Korea (10:00 GMT) before facing the USA (12:00 GMT) on Sept. 25 at the 6,500 capacity Dalga Arena in Baku.
The Gambia will finish group play on Sept. 29 against France (12:00 GMT) at the same Dalga Arena. Eighth Kilometer District Stadium features a grass field but Dalga Arena has an artificial turf surface.
Gambia will open its account against North Korea, the country that won the inaugural FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in 2008, defeating the USA 2-1 in extratime. The North Koreans also advanced to the semifinal of the 2010 tournament, where they fell to Japan and then lost again in the third-place match to Spain.
The meeting against the USA will not be an easy one as they were favored to win the 2010 CONCACAF Women’s U-17 Championship held in Costa Rica, winning their group and scoring 32 goals. However, they suffered a stunning loss to Canada in the semifinals, on a penalty shootout.
This loss prevented the United States from qualifying to the 2010 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup, the first time in history that a United States women’s national soccer team has not advanced out of their region to a Women’s World Cup.
The final group game against an always talented French side will be a tough one. Of the 42 teams that began the qualifying rounds in Europe, France made it to the semifinals along with Switzerland, Denmark and Germany. In the semifinals, France defeated Switzerland 5-1 and Germany beat Denmark 2-0. In the championship game, the two European powers tied 1-1 before the Germans eventually prevailed in penalty kicks.
With a clutch of skilful attacking players and an aggressive mentality, Gambia could cause problems for any rivals that underestimate them. Given the emerging nature of women’s football in the country of under two million, the debutants will also be helping to increase the profile of the sport.