A minimum of two new Women’s World Cup finalists will be decided today and Thursday as the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations in Morocco reaches the quarterfinal stages.
The tournament not only serve to decide who is the best team on the continent but also four automatic African places at the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, next year.
The Women’s World Cup has been expanded from 24 to 32 teams and that means a 100 per cent increase in African representation, with the possibility of two more countries qualifying through a playoff tournament in New Zealand next February.
Senegal and Zambia take on each other in Casablanca on today followed by a clash between Botswana and Morocco in Rabat in the first of the four quarterfinal duel.
None of these countries have previously been to the World Cup although Zambia did qualify for the women’s football tournament at the Tokyo Olympics last year – where unlike the men who play with an under-23 restriction, the women’s tournament is at full international level.
In Rabat on Thursday, Tunisia, who are the other country without past World Cup experience take on South Africa, who were at the last Women’s World Cup in France in 2019.
Desiree Ellis’s side won all three group matches, including beating defending champions Nigeria last week in their opening game of the tournament in Morocco, but have been hit by a hammer blow with star striker Thembi Kgatlana suffering serious injury.
Cameroon and Nigeria will be ruing their misfortune after being paired against each other in their last eight clash in Casablanca on Thursday.
The Super Falcons have qualified for all eight previous editions of the Women’s World Cup and are favoured against the Indomitable Lionesses, but their opponents participated at the last two editions and will provide strong resistance.
While South Africa are fancied to win their Thursday quarterfinal, the other ties look wide open.
Botswana might yet upset hosts Morocco, who did win all three of their Group A games but benefitted from penalties in two of the three matches.
Botswana showed some stubborn resistance on Sunday in their last group C game against South Africa before Banyana grabbed a late goal but could yet upset the home team’s hopes.
Zambia qualified for last year’s Olympic Games, which for women was played at full international level, and are therefore expected to overcome Senegal, even if their star player Barbara Banda is missing.
She was not selected for the tournament by Zambia, who are claiming the Confederation of African Football forced their hand with strict proof of gender requirements. – Mzansi Football