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Costa Rica 2014

Nigeria optimistic of Costa Rica success

(African Football Media)
Chinwendu Ihezuo (R) of Nigeria is congratulated by team-mate
© Getty Images

Chinwendu Ihezuo already has her name in the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup record books, but in an interview with the Nigerian striker admits that she is looking for more.

At the finals in 2012 in Azerbaijan, African footballing superpower Nigeria were paired with Colombia, Canada and the hosts. With just nine minutes to go in their opening game, the west Africans were trailing Canada 1-0 and were staring defeat in the face when the then-15-year-old Chinwendu Ihezuo found the equalising goal.

In the next match, the Flamingoes faced Azerbaijan and Ihezuo ran riot, leading Nigeria to an 11-0 success and scoring a record-breaking five goals in the process. A 3-0 victory against Colombia in their final game saw the west Africans top their group and face France in the quarter-final, which the Europeans won on a penalty shoot-out.

Although Ihezuo played in only four matches, her six goals were enough to see her finish second-top scorer of the tournament behind Korea DPR's Ri Un-Sim, who scored eight times in six contests. Ihezuo gained some personal glory by picking up the adidas Silver Boot award, which was handed over to her in a ceremony in Nigeria later in the year, but the 17-year-old forward still feels unfinished business. “I still felt bad that we were knocked out. There was some personal satisfaction though as I was the second highest scorer at the tournament, but as a team we did not achieve what we wanted."

Nigeria's run of having competed at the finals of every under-17 (as well as ever under-20) event on the global stage, is set to continue in Costa Rica, and the visit to Central America should afford Ihezuo the opportunity to add to her goal tally, as barring injury or any other unforeseeable incidents, Ihezuo should be in Nigeria's squad this time around again.

A second bite
As one of the more experienced players in coach Bala Nkiyu's side, Ihezuo knows that much is expected from her. "I try to help my team-mates with the experience that I have. Having already played at the finals of a World Cup, I know what to expect and it can help the other players in our squad if they know that."

The Flamingoes, who advanced to the quarter-finals in the last two tournaments after failing to do so the first time they participated in 2008, have been drawn against Colombia, Mexico and China PR. Ihezuo admits that she knows very little about Mexico and China PR. "But we played against Colombia the last time. They play very fast football."

Nigeria qualified for the finals in Costa Rica without playing a single game as their opponents pulled out of the qualifying campaign. The lack of competition is not something that worries the goal-getter. "It was only one team that we were supposed to play, and they opted out. We have played some friendless and that has helped us a lot.

"Our preparations are going very well. We are travelling to Portugal for our final preparations, I can say so far so good. People in Nigeria expect us to win the cup, and I think that we are one of the teams that stand a chance."

Family support
Ihezuo started playing football on the streets of Ajegunle, a district in Lagos, where many top-class footballers like former Super Eagles players Samson Siasia, Taribo West and Emmanuel Amuneke come from. "I started playing football when I was still a little girl, and I realised that I had a talent for it."

She later joined Pelican Stars. After her record-breaking exploits in Azerbaijan, Ihezuo continued playing for the Calabar-based club, which has won more championships than any other team in Nigeria, but her life did alter a little bit. "The one thing that changed for me when I come back from Azerbaijan, was that I was much more exposed, people started noticing me."

Ihezuo, who lives at home with her parents, can count on a huge amount of family support in Costa Rica as she is the youngest of eight children. And if Chinwendu can come back from Costa Rica with a winners' medal to add to the silver boot award, they will be even prouder of their baby sister than they already are.

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