Now, at least four African teams will be at next year’s World Cup after reaching the semifinals of the Africa Women Cup of Nations. It is a first time for some but no less than they deserve.
The quarterfinal matches were gruelling, absorbing and nervy. And yet, it was fun, a little too exciting at times.
Zambia will be allowed to enjoy this success for as long as possible. Indeed, their story has been sort of a fairy tale: from finishing as unpredicted table-winners to defeating Senegal on penalties in the knockout.
Goalkeeper, Hazel Nali had no destination, sprinting all over after scoring the decisive penalty. And it was not just her.
Morocco did just about enough to edge past a brave Botswana side 2-1. The South African team can be proud of their campaign.
Nigeria did not have it pretty against Cameroon. Yet, once again, in the absence of Asisat Oshoala, Rasheedat Ajibade stepped up to head home and qualify the Falcons for a ninth successive World cup.
South Africa did the needful, defeating Tunisia by a lone goal thanks to Jermaine Seoposenwe’s composed finish.
With the quarterfinal hurdle crossed, and tickets to New Zealand and Australia sealed, there can be only one objective for the semifinalists: the title!
Zambia vs South Africa
The East African side will not be stopped from dreaming. This is what the tournament has been to them after all.
They will look to ride on their momentum against one of the tournament favourites.
Bruce Mwape’s objective will be to keep the opponent from scoring early and getting settled into a rhythm. And the longer they can maintain an even scoreline, the more anxious the Banyana Banyana side will be.
Avell Chitundu has scored two pivotal goals for the Copper Queens so far. She will be hopeful once more.
For Desiree Ellis’ women, the absence of Thembi Kagatlana has been rather conspicuous. They are a little more predictable in offense.
However, on the balance of quality, they are still the favourites to progress. Ellis will be keen on a swifter build-up in possession while relying on Seoposenwe to finish adequately.
Everything points to a low-scoring encounter which might, in the end, go beyond regulation time.
Prediction: Under 3.5 goals
Morroco vs Nigeria
The hosts will face their toughest test in Nigeria. And yet, the lure of winning the title on home soil might just spur them on.
The North Africans are quick and tactical. Reynalds Pedros will have his work cut out in trying to find spaces around a team that has not conceded since the opening match.
Curtailing the star power of the Nigerian side will also be something he will be scratching his head over.
Ghizlane Chebbak has been impressive all-tournament from the wings. The entire country will be relying on her once again.
Nigeria, on the other hand, will be brimming with confidence after knocking out one of the favourites. And against a team featuring at this stage for the first time, the nine-time champions will almost certainly be looking beyond this tie.
For Randy Waldrum, he will be counting on his superstars. For most of it, they have been the difference.
A little underrated, Ifeoma Onumonu, has led the line brilliantly; making runs in-behind, and holding up play as required. Ajibade’s pace and intelligence will count for plenty.
Morocco will give this everything, but you reckon that the Falcons, based on experience and quality, will just be an opposition too hard to pull down.
Prediction: Nigeria win