Harmony Achifula: Was Her Exclusion From The U-17 Flamingos Squad Criminal?
Harmony Achifula is a name conspicuously absent from the recent list of 35 players released by coach Bankole to fight for places in the final squad to Under-17 women's world cup in India in October.
To say she yanked the Women’s Nationwide league (Nigeria's female division 3 league) by storm will be a huge understatement; Harmony Achifula, 16 years old, flooded football pitches with breath-taking goals and all round resplendent center forward play in her division and her best is definitely yet to come.
Her pristine and polished performances in her league and low level cup competitions have won rave reviews from the following media houses and online platforms: Punch Newspaper, Imo Trumpeta, Sports 247 NG, Remotv.com to mention a few.
Many pundits are already referring to her as the next Asisat Oshoala. But personally, I think they are getting carried away. Performances in division three football aren't enough for me to make such a bold statement but I think the young lady has a huge, tantalising future in front of her if her career trajectory and her own decisions and applications continue to navigate her productivity in the right direction.
For the moment, the teen sensation emphatically powered her club, Imo Striker Queens, to the NWFL Championship (the second tier of women’s league) this year, scoring a jaw dropping 10 goals in four games in the Nationwide league in Benin City.
Aside from emerging as top scorer in the promotion competition, she was also voted as the unanimous Most Valuable Player due to the maturity with which she approached her game and the class, quality, beauty and finesse she brought to bear, all of which suggested she would embrace higher level football with consummate ease.
The quality of her output also earned Achifula a cash grant of N200,000 as grants from LIS (Ladies In Sports Organisers).
So, why was Achifula excluded from coach Bankole’s recently released U-17 women's list for October's cadet women's world cup in India?
Without speaking directly to coach Bankole, I can only surmise that he has confidence in all of the strikers already included in his team which leaves no space for others.
Nigeria is blessed with many untapped resources in women's football; Harmony Achifula is just one of them and one of many left out in this U-17 squad.
Also, as much as I wouldn't want to diminish the level of league where Achifula recently thrived - she is just 16 years old - but her achievements would have been more difficult for Bankole to ignore had it been in the NWFL (division 2).
So, now that Harmony Achifula has gained promotion to the NWFL, it will be nothing short of criminal if she isn't included in the Falconets squad for next year's qualifiers for the 2024 Under-20 women's world cup (provided she is fit and firing on all scoring cylinders).
Some critics are already sounding a note of caution that Harmony Achifula might prove to be a one season wonder. Others claim that she has only been able to bully her way to goals in a mediocre backwater league and that she would find a higher profile league more difficult to navigate and crack.
Only time will tell.
But what is undeniable is that Harmony's recent achievements and the league she accomplished these laudable outputs arguably came too early for national team handlers particularly as there are copious talents to pick from across the country and in diaspora.
But, with hard work, dedication, focus, commitment, proper guidance and good decision making, Harmony Achifula may well be the next Mercy Idoko, Flourish Sabastine or Esther Onyenezide.
It is way too early and much too premature for me to even attempt to compare her with the humongous Asisat Oshoala at this stage, Harmony has a long, long way to go yet (and many people to convince and many obstacles to overcome) to even attain the level of the recent U-20 Falconets strikers.
But she appears to be on the right track, good luck to Harmony!