We look at the results of the first round of the 2018 African Women's Cup of Nations, which doubles as the African Football Federation's Women's World Cup Qualifiers for the 2019 Finals. We also look at some items of major importance in CONCACAF, including the Caribbean Football Union's Challenge Series, the draw for Caribbean World Cup Qualifiers this summer and the unfortunate cancellation of the regions U-17 Finals due to social unrest in Nicaragua.
African World Cup Qualifiers.
In the first round of the 2018 African Women's Cup of Nations held in April, ten teams advanced to the second round, which will be held in June. The Women's Cup of Nations Finals will be held in Accra and Cape Coast, Ghana from November 17 to December 1, with the top three sides advancing to the 2019 WWC in France.
Kenya's goal in their first leg at home was all they needed to advance 1-0 on aggregate over Uganda; Kenya fought a strong rearguard action in the scoreless tie in the second leg on the road in Kampala. In the first leg, right back Lillian Adera (Vihiga Queens) scored eight minutes into the second half. Uganda coach Faridah Bulega said after that match: "Before, we were used to Kenya scoring four or five goals against us but today we came here and we conceded only one. This is a new generation of players and I am very happy with how they played today. In the return leg, I am optimistic we will overturn the result."
Carolyne Omondi of Kenya narrowly missed scoring early in the Kampala tie, being denied by the woodwork, which could have put the Harambee Starlets into a strong 2-0 aggregate advantage, plus gaining an important away goal, but the goalless draw was enough to send the Kenyans on to the next round. Kenyan goalkeeper Poline Atieno (Makolanders) shut out the Cranes over 180 minutes. Kenya's captain Wendy Achieng (Spedag) said after the second match: "We knew Uganda was a good team and we were ready for anything. We did not underrate them because they gave us a good run in the first leg. We knew what we wanted and we worked to achieve it,"
Another close run tie was the clash between Tanzania and Zambia; the first leg in Dar Es Salam ended 3-3 and a 1-1 tie in Lusaka sent Zambia's Shepolopolo through on away goals (4-4). Zambia striker Barbra Banda (Green Buffalos Women's FC) scored a brace with one assist in the home leg. Striker Asha Rashid of Tanzania's Twiga Stars had two goals as well. In the second match, Tanzania knotted up the match through Omar in the 72nd minute after Zambia's Rachel Kundananji scored in the first minute from a tight angle. Zambia had good chances to win the game at the end from Theresa Chewe and from Kundananji outside of the six yard box, with Twiga Stars goalkeeper Fatuma Jawardy deflecting the ball with her foot on the latter attempt.
Ethiopia defeated Libya 15-0 on aggregate to advance; Ethiopia won 8-0 in the first leg that was held in Cairo due to political instability in Libya and 7-0 in the second leg at Addis Ababa. Loza Abera scored two goals in the first leg and four in the second. In Cairo, Captain Erehima Zerega netted a hat-trick to go along with Abera's brace and singles from Mirkat Ayele, Bizuayehu Aymeku and Betelhem Shemea. Libya's head coach Hassam Forjani said: "The Ethiopian side is very good. Our team has just started. Most of the players were having their debuts. We have not participated in the qualifier[s] in the past compared to our opponents. We are in a building process so it is a huge for us to even play these two-legged games." Selam Zereaye, head coach of the Ethiopian women's U-17 team, and also of local side Saint George, has one goal in his new position as national team coach of Lucy, as the side is known locally: "Our target is simple and clear—to qualify for the final tournament in Ghana. We won't underestimate our opponents. I think we need to keep in mind that there is no walkover in the qualifiers. Since it is a knockout, we will prepare for every match with full focus." She included some players from the Ethiopian Women's Second Division and some from the junior national teams as well. The full squad was entirely home based:
Goalkeepers: Martha Bekele (Defense Force), Abaynesh Ereqelo (Hawassa City), Tigest Abera (Commercial Bank of Ethiopia)
Defenders: Meselu Abera, Bizuayehu Tadesse (both from Saint George), Tseganesh Teshome (Dire Dawa City), Zeleka Assefa, Meskerem Kanko (both from Dedebit), Bethlehem Kefyalew (Ethio-Electric), Tarikuwa Bediso (Commercial Bank of Ethiopia), Geneme Worku (Gedio Dilla)
Midfielders: Senayit Bogale, Birtukan Gebrekristos (both from Dedebit), Aregashe Likesa (Ethiopian Youth Sports Academy), Zuleka Juhad, Hiwot Dengiso (both from Commercial Bank of Ethiopia), Emebete Addisu (Defense Force)
Forwards: Mirekat Feleke (Hawassa City), Loza Abera, Tigest Zewede (both from Dedebit), Senaf Waquma (Adama City), Rehima Zerega (Commercial Bank of Ethiopia), Serkaddis Guta (Adama City), Sisay Gebrewelde (Ethiopian Youth Sports Academy)
Ethiopia has a national team pool player abroad in goalkeeper Dagmawit Mekonnen, who is the first professional women's footballer in Ethiopian history; she is playing in the Turkish Division II Women's League Kadinlar 2. Ligi Group B with Akdeniz Nurçelik Spor of Istanbul.
Algeria beat Senegal 3-2 on aggregate, reversing a 2-1 loss in Senegal with a 2-0 home victory to become the only Saharan nation to advance to the second round. Rahima Benaichouche scored right at the end of the second leg, adding to Fatima Sekouane's first half opener for the 2-0 win in Algiers. The goal by Sekouane was enough to take Les Fennecs Dames through on away goals but Benaichouche's late tally ended the match in an exciting manner for the home fans.
In other ties, Zimbabwe defeated Namibia 2-0 in each leg for a 4-0 aggregate victory.
Congo defeated the Central African Republic at home 2-0 and tied the away leg 1-1 to advance to the second round 3-1 on aggregate.
Lesotho beat Swaziland 1- at home and then 2-1 away for a 3-1 aggregate victory.
Cote d'Ivoire settled for a scoreless draw in the second leg at home with Morocco, with the away goal that they scored in Morocco in the 1-1 first game enough to take them through to the next round.
Burkina Faso defeated Gambia 2-1 in Ouagadougou, reversing a 2-1 lost in Gambia for a 3-3 aggregate tie, but the Gambians won the penalty shootout 5-3.
Sierra Leone and Mali's two matches were cancelled after Sierra Leone withdraw, sending Mali through to the next round.
In June the Second Qualifying Round has the following ties:
Algeria vs. Ethiopia—both from the First Qualifying Round
Ivory Coast vs. Mali—both from the First Qualifying Round
Gambia vs. Nigeria
Congo vs. Cameroon
Kenya vs. Equatorial Guinea
Lesotho vs South Africa
Zambia vs. Zimbabwe—both from the First Qualifying stage
Note: Bold indicates the nation had a bye in the First Qualifying Round.
Caribbean Football Union Women's Challenge Series
The Caribbean Football Union (CFU) has a national team tournament for the Caribbean region to provide more competition for some nations who rarely get to play international competition. The CFU Women's Challenge Series which will be played in five groups and will be only the third CFU contest for women's national teams ever held. The last competition was the 2014 Caribbean Women's Cup, which was won by Trinidad and Tobago. Haiti won the inaugural competition in 2000.
Jeaninne Wong-Loi-Sing, the Chairperson of the CFU Women's Football Committee, explained the rationale for the tournament: "The competition will be a showcase for the growth of women's football in the region and will be used as [a] practice-and-development platform for different stakeholders such as players, coaches, referees and local organizing Member Associations. Football in the Caribbean has been a predominantly male-focused event from grassroots to adult. While FIFA has, over the years, encouraged the allocation of 15 per cent of its resources to the development of the women's game, little attention if any was given to its growth in the CFU. The staging of an annual event of this kind will allow for year-round interest amongst our senior female players and as motivation for the younger players." Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Tasha St. Louis, who has played in Sweden and the U.S., added: "I think these games are good for us because in in the past we really never had a tournament such as this to prepare us for the World Cup qualifiers coming in May (see more below). These matches will help show where we are with fitness and how much work needs to be done." Her teammate Marian Shade said: "We know that the teams in the Caribbean are no walk over any more so we cannot take anyone for granted. Many teams are stepping up and becoming more difficult to defeat but it's again a good opportunity for us to just go out there and execute the game plan and show that we, T&T, are still the giants of Caribbean in Women's Football and then look to take that dominance into the CONCACAF Level."The CFU has not ever had a team qualify for the WWC, with Trinidad and Tobago narrowly missing out in 2015, falling to Ecuador 1-0 over two legs in the intercontinental play-in.
The tournament involves 20 of the 25 CFU member nations and the five groups were held in five different countries: Warner Park Sporting Complex in St. Kitts; UWI JFF Captain Horace Burrell Center of Excellence in Jamaica; Stade Sylvia Cator in Haiti; Antigua Recreation Grounds in Antigua; and Ato Boldon Stadium in Trinidad.
In Group A, St. Lucia and St. Kitts and Nevis finished first and second (7 points versus 6 points respectively), with St. Lucia winning the group after defeating the hosts St. Kitts 1-0. Dominica finished third (4 points) and St. Vincent and the Grenadines was fourth with 0 points and no goals scored against 6 allowed.
In Group B, Cuba finished first in a group with a myriad of postponements and cancellations, which also contained Jamaica, Turks and Caicos and Barbados. In Cuba's 7-0 defeat of Barbados, Maria Perez Torres scored three times and Rachel Pelaez Ellis added a brace. Torres scored again in Cuba's 1-0 defeat of Jamaica.
In Group C, Haiti defeated the U.S. Virgin Islands 7-0, in a group with the Dominican Republic and Martinique as well.
In Group D, Guadeloupe—a non FIFA member as a territory of France as is Martinique—will face Antigua and Barbardos, Curacao and Montserrat, which are playing this weekend.
In Group E, Grenada, Guyana, Surinam and Trinidad and Tobago are playing in T&T this weekend.
2018 CONCACAF Caribbean Women's Gold Cup/World Cup Qualifiers are set
The 2018 CONCACAF Caribbean Women's Qualifier, set to kick off on May 5, will be held in two stages. For the first stage of the regional qualifier, the 23 participating member associations were sorted into three groups of five and two groups of four teams.
For the draw, round one hosts Dominican Republic, Haiti, Trinidad & Tobago, Antigua and Barbuda and Guyana were pre-seeded into position one of Groups A, B, C, D and E respectively. The other 18 participating member associations were ranked and divided into three pots of five and one pot of three.
The final round of the Caribbean qualifying will be held on August 18-26, among the first stage group winners, from which the top three finishers of the final round will qualify for the 2018 CONCACAF Women's Championship, to be held in the U.S. in October, with three teams advancing directly to France and the fourth place team set to play Argentina in a two-leg final for one last spot in France.
Note Guadeloupe and Martinique will compete but cannot advance out of CONCACAF to the World Cup Finals, as they are both territories of France
2018 Concacaf Caribbean Women's Qualifiers Round One Groups
1. Dominican Republic
2. Puerto Rico
4. Turks and Caicos Islands
1. Trinidad & Tobago
3. US Virgin Islands
4. St. Kitts and Nevis
1. Antigua & Barbuda
2. St. Vincent and the Grenadines
3. St. Lucia
CONCACAF U-17 Women's Championship Cancelled in Nicaragua.
CONCACAF's 2018 U-17 Women's Championship was cancelled last weekend in Nicaragua after 6 of the 12 group matches were played. The tournament decides the three CONCACAF finalists to the FIFA 2018 U-17 Women's World Cup in Uruguay this fall. Civil unrest in the country triggered by proposed governmental changes to the national social security system resulted in over 20 deaths. Mexico and Haiti in Group A had won both of their games and had already qualified for the semifinals over Puerto Rico and host Nicaragua. Only one set of matches was played in Group B, a 4-0 U.S. win over Costa Rica and Canada's 3-0 defeat of Bermuda. Bermuda's Assistant Coach Naquita Robinson said when the team landed safely at home, "Things changed drastically in a matter of moments, we went from preparing for a match against the United States to preparing to leave the country, but we are all ready for whenever they resume the tournament." Bermuda's Sports Minister Michael Weeks added, "I am glad that our ambassadors are home safely, we the Government reached out to see what we could do to assist and just to make sure our girls and officials were doing well."
A look at the rosters reveals that, even though these players are of high school age, the recruiting process among diaspora is active even at this level within the region, though not to the degree that we see at the U-20 or full national team levels. Bermuda has 6 players from the States and 1 from the U.K—Leilanni Nesbeth is from the island nation but studies at Bedes and won a cricket scholarship to the school. She has also been playing for Brighton and Hove Albion's women's team. Canada is using an entirely home based side, which includes Jordan Huiteman, a forward who has been playing for the full national side since last year. Costa Rica has two of their squad from the U.S. and 1 from Canada. Haiti has two U.S. based players, both from the New York/New Jersey area. Mexico has four from the States and 13 play in the second year youth focused Liga MX Femenil. Nicaragua has one U.S. based player and Puerto Rico has 6 from the States (mostly from the New York/Boston area)—as a territory of the U.S. Puerto Ricans carry U.S. passports. In addition, the catastrophic hurricanes last year have increased the exodus. U.S.is all home based.
Tim Grainey is a contributor to Tribal Football. His latest book Beyond Bend it Like Beckham on the global game of women's football. Get your copy today.
Follow Tim on Twitter: @TimGrainey