LAGOS, June 13, 2018 - After about a week of interesting home and away matches across 14 African cities, the line-up for the 11th edition of the Women’s African Cup of Nations is now complete, with familiar faces making mincemeat of their opponents to book their place in emphatic fashion.
The qualifiers which began with 24 teams in contention, came to an end on Monday as eight-time African Champions, Nigeria thrashed their West African counterparts, Gambia 6-0 at the Agege Township Stadium in Lagos.
Desire Oparanozie hogged the headlines with four goals while Reigning Africa Women’s Player of the Year Asisat Oshoala added a brace to ensure a rousing occasion at the Soccer Temple and a 7-0 aggregate victory – having beaten Gambia 1-0 in the first leg.
Big guns – It is often said that there are no small teams in Africa anymore. Well, the competition may be getting stiffer, but that has not stopped the tough from getting tougher.
When the draw for the Women’s AFCON was done in October last year, four teams were drawn bye to the second and final round; Nigeria, Cameroon, South Africa and Equatorial Guinea.
Alongside hosts Ghana, this elite clique make up the seemingly unmovable fearsome top five on the continent, and accounts for more than half of the tournament’s participation ratio dating back to the first ever African Women's Championship in 1991. Equatorial Guinea do have the least number of appearances (4), but they earned their place at the high table as the only other team to have won the title.
Their consistency will definitely be threatened in a situation where they probably have to face one another in the qualifiers. Like when Cameroon stopped Ghana from qualifying for a first - and only - time till date in 2012. Both sides were inseparable over two legs and had to settle for a lengthy penalty shootout - after a 2-2 aggregate draw – which ended 10-9 in favour of Cameroon.
In the meantime, however, these big guns will keep flexing their muscles with intimidating scorelines. Cameroon fed Congo 10 unreplied goals over two legs while South Africa and Nigeria inflicted 7-0 defeats on Lesotho and Gambia respectively. Equatorial Guinea met a stiffer opposition in Kenya and could only manage a 3-2 aggregate win.
Returnees – Although they have their elite status, Equatorial Guinea will be making a return to the Women’s AFCON for the first time since 2012, while Algeria and Zambia last appeared at the continental showpiece in 2014.
Ghana 2018 will be Equatorial Guinea and Algeria’s fifth Women’s AFCON - they never featured in the pre-biennial era. But for Zambia, it will be their second – if 1995 should be excluded.
No first-timer – Like Kenya in 2016, this could have been Gambia and/or Lesotho’s year. But they met oppositions that were too hot to handle. When both teams hosted the first leg of their respective ties, they limited their opponents to one goal apiece. But they fell like a pack of cards in the return fixture.
It was Gambia’s first time ever to participate in the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers while Lesotho were making a return after last featuring in the qualifiers in 2000. They withdrew before their first match in 2006.
Away goals rule – Two teams qualified for the 2018 Women’s AFCON courtesy of the away goals rule; Zambia and Mali.
For Zambia in particular, it was a crucial theme in their qualification campaign. The away goals rule saw them through the first round where they played out a 3-3 aggregate draw against Tanzania before they went on to overturn a first leg defeat in the second round to shock Zimbabwe.
Mali needed the away goals rule in only the second round as they denied Cote d’ Ivoire an opportunity to make back to back World Cup appearances.
A letter to CAF – Kenya may still have a second chance at Ghana 2018 after they lodged a complaint to the Confederation of African Football (CAF), questioning the eligibility of three Equatorial Guinea players.
According to reports in the local media, the letter signed by the Football Kenya Federation's CEO Robert Muthomi, is alleging that Celestine Basecu and Annette Msomo are Cameroonians, while Luz Obono was not registered when both sides played the first leg.
Flashing back to 2016, Mali took the place of Equatorial Guinea in Cameroon after Equatorial Guinea were disqualified due to a forgery case that involved their player named, Camila Nobre do Carmo Oliviera.
The decision was a result of Mali’s protest. Equatorial Guinea had beaten Mali 3-2 on aggregate in the final round of qualifying.Kenya will have to wait for whatever CAF’s decision will be regarding their complaint.
Meanwhile Equatorial Guinea are just too notorious for fielding ineligible players. This is why whether they eventually participate in the 2018 Women’s AFCON or not, there will be no place for them at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup and subsequently, the 2020 Olympic Games.
A host in crisis – Last week, Ghanaian football was thrown into turmoil after a documentary by an investigative journalist, Anas Aremeyaw Anas, was made public, exposing the greed and corruption that has eaten deep into the fabric of the country’s football.
Since then, football activities in Ghana have been put on hold following the dissolution of the Ghana Football Association by the country’s presidency. But government interference could become an issue for Ghana considering that the world football governing body FIFA frowns against it.
Kwesi Nyantakyi, who was caught on camera accepting a $65,000 bribe from a supposed sponsor of the Ghanaian league, has resigned from his position as President of the Ghana Football Association and has also stepped aside from his roles with CAF and FIFA. But uncertainty still hovers around Ghanaian football.
With just five months to the start of the 2018 Women’s AFCON, one can only hope that the dust will settle before then.
Who is Loza Abera? – She is the rising star you have to know. She was the highest goal scorer at the just concluded qualifying series for the 2018 Women’s AFCON but her eight goals were not enough to send Ethiopia to the Promised Land.
In the Ethiopian Women’s Premier League, the Dedebit FC star scores for fun as well and is currently the top scorer. She was hoping to showcase her talent on the biggest stage of women’s football in Africa later this year but that was not to be after a 3-6 aggregate loss to Algeria.
Following the elimination of Ethiopia and Kenya, East Africa will not be represented at the 2018 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations.
The 2018 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations which scheduled for November 17 to December 1 will also double as Africa’s qualifiers the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019 in France.
Women’s AFCON qualifiers second leg, second round results (aggregate scores)
Cameroon 5-0 Congo Brazzaville (10-0)
Equatorial Guinea 2-0 Kenya (3-2)
Zimbabwe 1-2 Zambia (2-2)
Ethiopia 2-3 Algeria (3-6)
South Africa 6-0 Lesotho (7-0)
Mali 0-0 Ivory Coast (2-2)
Nigeria 6-0 The Gambia (7-0)