“Unfortunately, there seems to be far more opportunity out there than ability…. We should remember that good fortune often happens when opportunity meets with preparation.” ―Alan Armstrong

The quote underlines the performance of Nigeria’s Under-17 women’s national football team the Flamingoes, at the 2016 FIFA Under-17 Women’s World Cup in Jordan. The team had a disastrous outing at the World Cup. It was the worst performance for Nigeria in the age-grade competition. Despite the array of talents in the team, it was shocking the girls could not score a single goal in the tournament. They got a draw against England though, but that was not enough to guarantee them passage to the next stage of the competition.

For sure, Nigerians were disappointed with the shambolic performance of the team, but none realised (except for few) that the girls were not prepared for the global showpiece.

And speak of preparation, whose responsibility is it to prepare the team? The Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) of course! And the football house failed in that regard.

The 2016 under-17 FIFA women’s World Cup is in the past now and we all thought that the NFF has learnt from its mistake. But no!

The Flamingoes are billed to play Ethiopia on 1st December 2017, in a 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier. At the moment, the NFF has not appointed a head coach for the team. There are no players in camp, and from the look of things, the fire brigade approach of the football authority is about being employed once again. What on earth is NFF waiting for to appoint a coach for the team? How could our football officials be this carefree about women’s football? I’m sure the acronym NFF does not stand for Nigeria (Men’s) Football Federation.  I don’t quite understand why the football house treats women’s football with so much laxity.

Nigeria had a World Cup to forget in 2016 and one expects the NFF to set machinery in motion for a better outing in 2018, but no, the reverse is the case. As it stands, no one knows the fate of the team. The NFF has kept everyone in the dark. And no one knows the intentions of the football authority.

The 2016 under-17 squad was not bad. It had a nucleus of brilliant individuals that would have challenged for the trophy, but lack of preparations denied them. The captain of the team Rasheedat Ajibade is the star player of FC Robo, and the top striker of the Falconets — Nigeria under-20 women’s national football team. Seven other members of the squad are currently members of the current Falconets. Those that are not in the Falconets camp like defenders Happiness Titus and Abidemi Ibe were indispensable for Women’s Aiteo Cup finalists Ibom Angels. Patience Dike made a difference in Abia Angels. While others have gone on to become members of the starting eleven of their various club sides in the competitive Nigeria Women Premier League. That demonstrates that the members of the team are top class. No matter how good individual members of a team are, if they do not prepare for a competition as a team, they will never go far, and for all their effort, they will have failure as a reward. That was what happened to our girls in Jordan. And the NFF does not seem to care about ensuring a better outing this time.

On 1st December 2017, the Flamingoes are to play an away match against Ethiopia in a World Cup qualifier and at the moment there are no players in camp; the worry does not stop there. Let us assume that a head coach is appointed for the team next week, what time has he to call the right set of players to camp?  Suppose the coach succeeds in getting players to camp next week, how many of these girls have international passports? Believe it or not, a significant percentage of the girls that will be called to camp do not have international passports. Thus, the hassles of securing passports and subsequent visas for the players would definitely constitute a distraction. As we approach yuletide, almost all Nigeria women’s football clubs and academies are on break, as such, the girls may not gain match fitness in less than three weeks.

So, for Nigeria to avert the ignominy of pulling out of the qualifier which will be unprecedented, the NFF has less than three weeks to appoint a head coach, ensures that players are called to camp, secures international passports for those that don’t have, liaises with Ethiopian Embassy to secure their visas, makes transportation plans, and finally have them play in Ethiopia. Does the NFF have the capacity to achieve these in less than three weeks? I sincerely don’t know.

The precarious position of the team has created a serious concern. The thought of Flamingoes not making it to the World Cup sends chills down spines of Nigeria women’s football enthusiasts. It has to. Because when the fear of momentous failure meets the fear of an unknown, anxiety becomes acute. Worry multiplies. The possibility of that failure becomes overbearing.

With the way things are, Nigeria is in danger of not qualifying for the 2018 Under-17 FIFA Women’s World Cup. And one prays it does not happen.