Impetus is delighted to welcome Ghana-based women’s football journalist Esther Owusua Appiah-Fei to our global team of contributors. In this, her first article for us, she rounds up all the action from the first qualifying stage for the African Women’s Cup of Nations.
Above: Nigeria vs Ghana in the first leg of the AWCON qualifiers at the Mobolaji Johnson Arena (Lagos) Photo supplied by: Esther Owusua Appiah-Fei
African women’s football, though with a few developments needed, has seen a stark improvement over the past three decades since its official inception. The African Women’s Cup of Nation (AWCON) has grown steadily in the past few decades to give women’s football the competitive edge it needs on the continent. The 2022 AWCON qualifiers delivered its share of fun, excitement, lethargic moments as well as the highs and lows from the players.
The two greatest powerhouses and longstanding rivals were in the mix and to the surprise of many, they had to clash way too early in the qualifiers. The Black Queens of Ghana were drawn against the Super Flacons of Nigeria and it was nothing short of a thrill-infested game with all the antics and drama. Desiree Ellis and her Bayana Bayana ladies from South Africa, once again, made a statement that constant investment into women’s football pays off in beneficial folds and that can get you a highly coveted spot in an AWCON tournament.
A record of 44 great teams from Africa were pitted against each other for 11 spots in the final campaign. Prior to the game, there were critiques, who were against the format of the qualifiers but CAF still pushed through with it regardless. On May 10, 2022, the draw for the qualifiers en route to Morocco was done in Egypt, at CAF’S Headquarters in Cairo. The initial date set for the qualifiers were ‘June 7-17’ for the first round and ‘October 18-29’ for the second round.
However, on May 17, CAF distributed an official press release where they stated the immediate suspension of all the games due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, and the poor state of some stadiums on the continent. The quality of the game was an element the Federation wasn’t going to compromise on. The new dates for the AWCON qualifiers were also stated in the press release. The first round was going to take place within the month of October from the 18th through to the 26th whereas the second round will start on February 14-23 respectively.
During the international break in the various leagues, all the players together with their compatriots flew down to Africa to serve their international duties. The first leg of the first playoff round ended with quite some interesting score lines. Magnificent amongst them were the cricket scorelines in the mix. Algeria drubbed Sudan in a 14-0 massacre, with Botswana outclassing Angola by 5-1, Kenya also mauled South Sudan by 8-0 with Desiree Ellis’s South Africa thrashing Mozambique by 7-0. The Copper Queens of Zambia shared the spoils with Malawi after a 1-1 thrilling game. Barbara Banda missed this particular round of qualifiers for undisclosed reasons.
The game that caught the attention of many was Ghana’s encounter with arch West African rivals, Nigeria. Nigeria held Ghana to a 2-0 scoreline with a super brace from Uchenna for the Falcons.
The second leg of the first playoff round was also held over the weekend from Saturday, October 23, through to Tuesday, October 26. Teams like Ghana, Central Africa Republic, Liberia, Mauritania, Benin, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Gabon, Malawi, and Zambia were hoping to overturn their luck and qualify for the second round, slated for February 2022. It was a ‘do or die’ affair and all the teams were in no position to slip up and miss the next round of qualifiers. Ghana played against the Super Falcons of Nigeria on their home turf at the Accra Sports Stadium. Their games were the highlight of the whole Qualifiers considering the fact that they are the pacesetters for women’s football in Africa.
The Black Queens of Ghana played immensely well at Accra and complimented their performance with a great goal by Princella Adubea. They huffed and puffed trying to break the Nigerian defensive line and set the aggregate scoreline all square but it all proved futile. It ended 1-0 in favor of the Queens but on aggregate, Nigeria won by 2-1 and advanced to the second round.
The other round of matches across the continent were also dramatic and left fans on the edges of their seats. The game between Zambia and Malawi was one for the books. They both entered this clash with a 1-1 scoreline on aggregate hence had everything to fight for. Zambia showed their resiliency and tactical prowess and stood tallest after what turned out to be a nerve-wracking match. At halftime, the Copper Queens of Zambia led the scoreline with two goals from Racheal Kundananji 25’, 41’ and Asimeye Simwaka of Malawi scored the first goal of the game on the seventh-minute mark. Malawi leveled proceedings from a screamer by Wezzie Mvula on the 70th-minute mark.
After three minutes, Lushomo Mweeba put Zambia back in the lead from a long-range freekick. It all ended in favor of Zambia and they proceeded to the second and final round of the qualifiers. This time they go head to head with Namibia who emerged victorious over Tanzania.
Kenya and Algeria had the highest scoring aggregate in this qualifying round with their cricket score lines. There were no major upsets as almost all the powerhouses in Africa women’s football qualified for the next round,
Unfortunately, all the teams who were in high hopes of staging a comeback and causing an upset in their second legs fell through. DR Congo and Equatorial Guinea were disqualified. Djibouti, Rwanda, Togo, and Sao Tome E Principe withdrew and the game between Algeria and Sudan was also postponed. With the political unrest still looming in Sudan, it is still uncertain when the second leg between the two would come off.
For what is worth all the teams showed great charisma for their games and had the perks of playing the game they loved most in their national team colors. The tactics employed by the various coaches and the overall player performance rate were at a staggering high. This clearly showed a great renaissance in African women’s football and it was nothing short of thrills, excitement, and a great spectacle of football for women and the continent at large.