NICOLA ABERCROMBIE / AIPS Young Reporter* / BAKU: Pop-star Shakira may have been the star billing for the final night of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Baku, Azerbaijan, but there was no doubt about who stole the show.
France emerged from a 1-1 draw with defending title-holders North Korea to win an epic penalty shoot-out and clinch Europe’s first women’s U-17 world title.
Earlier, the closing ceremony appeared conspicuous by the absence of the Colombian songstress but after an opening ceremony where fans left in their droves after a performance by Jennifer Lopez, Shakira’s showpiece was wisely left until after the final whistle.
Whether it was on purpose or not, her late showing ensured a packed Tofig Bahramov Stadium was on hand to witness a sensational final.
There was no doubt what the fans came to see and that was goals. A huge roar went up when Lea Declerq netted the opener for the Bleuettes in the 33rd minute, but until then the crowd had been largely focused on producing an effective Mexican wave.
Numerous chances for both teams were met with enthusiasm but after Korea DPR equalised through Golden Boot winner Ri Un-Sim in the 79th minute, the crowd came alive.
The final 10 minutes were played before with fans on the edge of their seats and it seemed only fitting for the final to go to a penalty shoot-out.
The crowd of 27, 128 got every cent out of their ticket price, asFranceprevailed 7-6 to snatch their first U17 women’s title.
French goalkeeper Romane Bruneau deservedly won the Golden Gloves award while teammate Griedge Mbock Bathy took the Golden Ball. Korea DPR’s Ri Hyang Sim was awarded the Silver Ball.
The official closing ceremony was marked with traditional Azeri dancers and a gymnast-come-contortionist who performed on a fiery centrepiece in the middle of the pitch.
When Shakira finally emerged all three medal-winning teams were treated to a front-of-stage spot.
It was not the energetic performance the crowd got from J-Lo – largely due to the star’s pregnancy – but her 2010 World Cup anthem ‘Waka Waka (This time for Africa)’ was met with loud cheers, particularly from the Ghana players.
The playoff for third place began in front of a relatively empty stadium, seats filling up gradually as the game went on and the closing ceremony and final approached.
Ghana were down a player to a red card, lost their captain and another player to injury yet still looked far more hungry to go out on a high than their German opponents.
But rather than give up,Ghanashowed their resilience to prevail 1-0 and become the first team from Africa to medal at the tournament, capping an historical three weeks inAzerbaijan.
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