by Emmanuel Faith, Impetus’ African Women’s Football Correspondent (28/7/22)
Above: South Africa celebrate with the WAFCON trophy after defeating Morocco in the final. Photo: CAF Online.
When the hosts Morocco locked horns with the five-time finalists South Africa at the Rabat Stadium, we knew we were in for an exciting ride. Both teams were unbeaten prior to the finals, and both were set for breaking a record. Morocco trying to repeat a feat of hosting and winning, while the South Africans were committed to ending the hoodoo of the trophy evading them.
The first half was feisty, terse, and tense as South Africans played direct football, optimizing the speed and trickery of Noxolo Cesane and Seopesenwe on and off the ball. With half-goal scoring chances created in the fourth and eighth minutes, however the Atlas Lionesses of Morocco remained resilient, soaking up the pressure while hitting the Bayana Bayana on the counter. There were chances towards the end of the first half as Hildah Magaia drew a save from Morocco’s goalkeeper, while Ayane recorded the host nation’s first shot on target in the final.
The match sprung to life in the second half when Magaia connected with Seopesenwe to slot calmly into the right corner of the net to put South Africa ahead. A few minutes later, Magaia latched on a loose ball played into the box to double the lead leaving the Moroccan’s rattled. The hosts’ manager, Reynald Pedros issued directions from the touchline and it worked as in the 81st minute, Ayane connected with a beautifully laid pass from Fatima Tagnaout to get a goal back, causing the stadium to erupt in raucous roar.
South-African however defended with resilience in the last ten minutes, ensuring they laid their hands on the trophy for the first time.
A day before, Zambia had beaten the Super Falcons of Nigeria by a goal to nothing to take the bronze medal. A long-range strike from Zambian midfielder, Susan Katongo hit the bar and was deflected into the net off of the Nigerian goalkeeper. It was enough to give the she-polopolo of Zambia the win.
This was the first time the Nigerian women finished outside of the top three teams since 2012. Andile Dlamini won the goalkeeper of the tournament, while Ghizlane Chebbak won the player of the tournament.
With all eyes on the FIFA World Cup 2023, there are a lot of expectations from Africa. The continent’s best finish on the global stage has been quarter-finals and they would be looking forward to equaling that record and who knows, maybe surpassing it.
For players like Grace Chanda, Ghizlane Chebbak, and Jermaine Seopesenwe, they are new names the world can’t wait to behold, while for established stars like Rasheedat Ajibade and Asisat Oshoala, who were recently crowned African player of the year for a record fifth time, they would be looking to make a better account of themselves while living up the expectations of their fans and supporters.
Let’s not forget that there is still the possibility of one or two more African nations picking up slots from the Inter-Confederation play-offs next February, and I am sure that Africans would be hoping that at least, Cameroon gets one of those slots as it increases the continent’s chances of making it to the next round.