This week, we review the recent news from women's football in Africa, including the Final Round of Olympic Games Qualifiers between Cameroon and Zambia, as well the UEFA 2021 European Championships Qualifying Games played this month.
WFAU Zone A Championships
The West Africa Football Union Zone A Women's Championship was held at the end of last month and beginning of March in Sierra Leone. In Group A, the national teams of Cape Verde, Guinea, Senegal and host nation Sierra Leone competed, while Group B included Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mali and Liberia. The other member of Zone A is Mauritania but they did not participate. Zone B members include Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Niger, Nigeria and Togo. Zone B has held two championships, in 2018 and 2019, with Ghana winning in 2018 over host nation Ivory Coast 1-0 in the final. In 2019, Nigeria defeated the host (again) Ivory Coast in the final, 5-4 on penalties after a 1-1 tie. Mali and Senegal of Zone A participated as Zone B guests to take the number of teams up to 8, with Mali finishing fourth on both occasions.
In Group A in the 2020 Zone A tournament, the Lionesses of Senegal and Cape Verde advanced to the semifinals. In Group B, Mali and Liberia advanced to the knockout stage. At the semifinal stage, Senegal defeated Liberia 2-1. In the other semifinal, Mali blasted the Blue Sharks of Cape Verde by a 4-0 score to make the final. Agueissa Diarra (Super Lionnes of Hamdallaye) and Zeinabou Sidibé (Amazones of Commune V) each scored a brace for Mali's Eagles in the match. Darra finished as the finals' leader in scoring with 7 goals while Sidibe added 5, combined contributing 12 of their team's 15 tallies in the 5 tourney games. They slotted in well for typical starters and foreign-based duo Bassira Toure (FC Kyriat Gat, Israel) and Aissata Traore (Guingamp, France), who were not called into the squad.
Senegal won the WAFU Zone A Women's Cup title with a 3-0 win over Mali on March 7 in the northern Sierra Leonean city of Makeni. Forward Ndeye Diakhate put Senegal in the lead after 27 minutes before Mbayang Sow doubled the lead on 56 minutes from a free-kick. Haby Balde sealed victory for Senegal with the third goal at the 70th minute mark. France based winger, Mama Diop and teammate Tenning Sene of Senegal were voted the tournament's best player and best goalkeeper respectively. Liberia won the bronze medal after beating Cape Verde 2-1 in the third place match, played before the final.
Gambia's Adama Tamba, who played for her country in the 2012 U-17 Women's World Cup Finals and is a potent force in Gambia's women's league with Red Scorpions, was third in tournament scoring after scoring four goals against Bissau Guinea in Gambia's second match day (a 5-2 victory).
2020 WAFU Zone A Full results
Sierra Leone 0-0 Cape Verde
Guinea 0-1 Senegal
Mali 6-0 Gambia
Liberia 4-0 Guinea Bissau
Cape Verde 0-1 Senegal
Sierra Leone 0-0 Guinea
Mali 3-0 Liberia
Gambia 5-2 Guinea Bissau
Senegal 1-1 Sierra Leone
Cape Verde 3-0 Guinea
Guinea Bissau 0-2 Mali
Gambia 1-2 Liberia
Semi Finals (04.03.2020)
Senegal 2-1 Liberia
Mali 4-0 Cape Verde
Liberia 1-0 Cape Verde (3rd Place Match)
Senegal 3-0 Mali (Final)
In the group stage, some highlights were simply the participation and hosting of the Finals by Sierra Leone. After years of civil war and dealing with a devastating breakout of Ebola, they are rebuilding their women's national team and finished the group stage undefeated with 3 ties, but was pipped by Cape Verde (4 points) for second behind Group A winners Senegal (7 points). Before the tournament, Sierra Leone tied Liberia 2-2 in a friendly during an intense two week training camp. NewSierra Leone head coach Abdulai Bah said before the tournament, "It's has been an herculean task trying to re-build a fallen female team, but now I've multiple choices of players to select to easily put together a final squad of twenty players for this very vital tournament that will add glory to our country's female football history," Since 2010, the Sierra Queens last two appearances in an international tournament came against Guinea in the CAF Women's Championship, which was also part of the Olympic qualification process, where they lost 3-2 and drew 1–1 during the preliminary round. Sierra Leone should be applauded for hosting this tournament and continuing to re-energize women's football in the country.
Liberia kicked off their WAFU 'A' Women's Cup campaign on a positive note with a 4-0 win over Guinea Bissau on February 26 at Wusum Field in Makeni. The Lone Star Ladies, who ultimately finished in third place, had four different scorers against Guinea Bissau: Lucy Massaquoi (Blanco FC), Bernice Willie (Senior Professionals), Lucy Kikeh (World Girls) and 2019 Liberian women's league most valuable player Angeline Keih (Earth Angels).
Chawinga named Malawian Sports Personality of the Year
Malawi forward captain Tabitha Chawinga has been named Malawi Sports Personality of the Year for 2019 by the Malawi National Council of Sports on February 14 at the Bingu International Convention Centre in Lilongwe. The Jiansgu Suning China-based striker defeated Stanley Lifa, a track and field star who participated at the World Championships in Qatar, holds his country's records for fastest time in the 100 and 200 meter dash and is a full-time student at the Malawi University of Science and Technology; Lifa had won best male athlete award on the night, while Chawinga won the overall best athlete award along with her Sports Woman of the Year title. Chawinga helped the national team to reach the second round of Olympic qualifiers, led Jiansgu Suning to only their second Chinese Women's Super League championship since their first title win in 2009 and was the Chinese league's top scorer last season. She competed for Jiansgu in the first Asian Women's Club Championship last December and previously starred in Sweden, where there were attempts to naturalize her and bring her into their national team program, but she stayed loyal to Malawi.
Olympic Games Qualifying Finals
Zambia pulled off one of the major upsets of recent memory in women's football by defeating Cameroon 2-1 in the second leg in Lusaka, Zambia on March 10, which combined with their 3-2 defeat in the first leg in Yaoundé five days earlier, has sent the Copper Queens to the Olympic Games for the first time—the two leg aggregate was tied 4-4 but Zambia had 2 away goals to only one for Cameroon.
Zambia warmed up for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Qualifiers Finals first leg against Cameroon by defeating JVW Randburg of South Africa 5-1. A brace from 22-year- old Grace Chanda (Zesco United FC) and a goal each from 19-year-old Barbra Banda (who this season has moved to Chinese Super League club Shanghai Shengli after two seasons in Spain with Logrono), Misozi Zulu (BIIK Kazygurt of Kazakhstan, in her first season with the UEFA Women's Champions League knockout stage regular participant) and Hellen Mubanga (Red Arrows) gave Zambia the win during a training camp in Pretoria at the University of Pretoria High Performance Centre.
Cameroon was heavily favored entering the final CAF qualifiers, as they have been to the Olympics in 2012 in London and the last two Women's World Cups, finished third at the 2018 African Championships and had two wins, three draws and one loss during their 2020 Olympic Qualifying Tournament run. In comparison, the Copper Queens were trying to make a first ever global Finals tournament but entered the last round of CAF qualifiers unbeaten with four wins, a 2-2 draw away to Kenya in the penultimate stage plus a walkover away result earlier against Zimbabwe after beating the latter 5-0 in a first round, first leg tie in Lusaka.
Zambia goalkeeper and captain Hazel Nali of the Green Buffalos of Lusaka (21) said ahead of the two leg finals, "We have played Cameroon at the 2018 COSAFA Women's Cup where we beat them 1-0 in the group stage and they beat us 1-0 in the semifinals so I feel we are even going into the game." Cameroonian star forward Ajara Njoya (Valeranga of Norway since 2018) argued her team's case when she said, "The objective for this year is to qualify for the Olympic Games, post a good performance and then try [to] win the Women's Africa Cup of Nations." Cameroon could draw on an experienced side, including a trio who have played in the Russian Women's League such as Gabrielle Aboudi Onguene (31, who has been at CSKA Russia for 3 seasons and won two league titles—last season and in 2016 with Rossiyanka), Michelle Henriette Akaba (27 with Atasejor Belediyesi Spor Kulubu of Istanbul, Turkey who also played in Russia with FC Energy Voronezh in 2012) and Falonne Meffometou (29. with Fleury 91 in France this season after 2 campaigns with Guingamp in France and also lined up in Russia for Zvezda Perm, where she won a league title in 2014). Njoya also felt that the fact that
Les Lionnes do not have to face Nigeria—the long-time dominate side in Africa but who were eliminated in the third round of qualifying by the Ivory Coast (1-1 on aggregate but out via a single away goal)—made it an easier path for her side. However, the Zambians had other ideas.
Zambia traveled to Cameroon for the March 5 match and narrowly loss a thrilling first leg game 3-2 to the Indomitable Lionesses at the Ahmadou Ahidjo stadium in Yaoundé. Gabrielle Onguene (CSKA Russia) scored the winner with two minutes left on the clock to go with an earlier goal that had staked her side to a 2-1 lead. Ajara Njoya (Valeranga of Norway) scored the first for the hosts before Zambia's Grace Chandu (Zesco United) scored a double for the visitors. Alain Djeumfa, the head coach of Cameroon stated after the first match, "I said before that there is no small team. If Zambia has reached this fifth round, that means that it is a great team and we saw it this evening. This is a game with all to play for in the return leg. We saw what was missing and we will work on it and prepare well. The most important thing is the qualification. Honestly, at the start of the game, the girls weren't calm and composed. They were a little under pressure, maybe the stakes had taken over the game. I think we re-mobilized them. We can't remain comfortable with this victory and we have to go look for the win over there." Zambia head coach Bruce Mwape said, "It is a bonus for us to be here because we are like outsiders. To reach a better position in the women's football ranking, sometimes we have to face the best teams and that is what we are trying to do and certainly in the near future we will also be ranked higher. We are waiting for the return match and hopefully we can turn this round." That they did.
In the second leg, Zambia won 2-1 in the second leg and took the CAF automatic spot to Tokyo 2020 with a 4-4 aggregate but 2-1 win on away goals. Mary Makawapila got the Copper Queens started with a first goal in the 10th minute with a strong shot from well outside of Cameroon's penalty box. Zambia scored the crucial second goal when Hellen Mubanga (Red Arrows) scored after a long run from Barbra Banda (Shanghai Shengli of China). Cameroon caused some late jitters when Ajara scored in the 87th minute from a rebound of Onguene's shot. A second goal from Cameroon would have sent Les Lionnes on directly to Tokyo but Zambia held on to the delight of the nation.
Zambia Head Coach Bruce Mwape said after the historic win, "I am very happy to be the first coach to qualify the team to the Olympics. I may not look happy but it is just that I am a little stressed after all the shouting and giving instructions but it will all sink in when I get home. The result could have been positive in Cameroon but we only made silly mistakes at the back in the first leg. We had that hope, we never lost hope, we saw how Cameroon played in the first leg and we just continued where we left off in the first leg."
Cameroon has one last chance to make their second Olympic Games with an interregional two leg affair against Chile, the runners-up in 2019 WWC/2020 Olympic Qualifying for CONMEBOL, but Djeumfa—who was appointed just before the 2019 Women's World Cup and seemed to have a lack of control over his team in France—may not survive in the job no matter what happens in the Chile matches.
COSAFA Hosts CAF Women's Instructor Course
The COSAFA Zone held the first CAF Women's Instructor Course for Zonal Unions from March 5 thru11 in Johannesburg. The participants were from 12 Member Associations within the Southern African region: Botswana, Comoros, Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The aim of the six-day course was to build the capacities of female instructors within the zone and to impart their knowledge and expertise towards the development of women's football from the grassroots to the topmost level. The other five Zonal Unions are expected to have their turns in the ensuing weeks. Course instructors included Fran Hilton-Smith (South Africa), Jaqueline Shipanga (Namibia) and Sheryl Botes (South Africa). Hilton-Smith, the former head coach of the South African national team and long a leader in the growth of the women's game at the national, CAF and FIFA level, said, "This is the first time CAF has organized a zonal women's instructor course, and the aim is to have influential instructors who can work on developing female coaches and women's football at the regional levels. These instructors will form a network in the COSAFA zone to develop more coaches for the region," Topics discussed included Profile and Role of an Instructor, Reality-based learning evaluation, Managing women's team, Match Analyses, Team programming and Talent. The participants also attended the senior women's friendly between South Africa and Lesotho (see below) at the Tsakane Stadium near Johannesburg for a practical session on Match Analysis.
Deputy Coach of Zambia women's national team, Beauty Mwamba, said: "Attending this course will assist my transformation from a coach to an instructor. The knowledge and experiences exchanged on women's football will help in the development of the game back home." Marie Martine Kelly from Mauritius described the course, "as a huge step in my career and the promotion of women's football in my country. It will facilitate more engagement and developing a training program for the youth to build a stronger team in [the] future."
South Africa defeats Lesotho in Friendly
Banyana Banyana, the South African women's national team, defeated Lesotho 3-0 on March 8—International Women's Day—in Tsakane Stadium, a township near Johannesburg. Rhoda Mulaudzi (Apollon of Cyprus after a year with Canberra United in Australia's W-League) scored a first half brace along with a single goal from second half substitute and 18-year-old Sibulele Howeni of Sophakama/HFC in South Africa (her first goal for her country) were key to the victory for head coach Desiree Ellis, who led her country to their first ever Women's World Cup in 2019 in France. Ellis used the match to expand her player pool (Nonhlanhla Mthandi of Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies won her first cap) and she did not call in regulars such as Janine van Wyk (now back in South Africa after time in the U.S. and the Netherlands), Jermaine Seoposenwe (Real Betis in Spain after playing with Gintra Universitetas in Lithuania last season), Leandra Smeda (Vittsjo of Sweden after a year at Gintra), Nothando Vilakazi (Palace Super Falcons after playing with Moroka Swallows—both at home in South Africa), Refiloe Jane (AC Milan at Italy after a year with Canberra United in Australia) and Noko Matlou (Ma Indies in South Africa). Goalkeeper Andile Dlamini (Mamelodi Sundowns in South Africa) did play in her 50th cap for country and recorded the clean sheet. Ellis said after the match, "It was not a spectacle, but the players did what they had to do to get a win. I am happy that we got to get a positive result without the many regulars who were not here. At the end of the day, I believe it was a worthwhile exercise—although you cannot judge on just one match, we now have an idea of what we have in our pool, and if a need comes, we know where to replenish or strengthen." It was Banyana Banyana's first match of 2020.
UEFA2021 EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIPS MARCH MATCHES AND REVIEW
A dozen matches were held for the 2021 Women's EURO Championships from March 5 thru 11 in 6 of the nine groups.
Group A: Netherlands (holders), Slovenia, Russia, Kosovo, Turkey, Estonia
In Group A on March 6, Kosovo faced Russia in a neutral site game in Wiesbaden, Germany, with Russia winning 5-0; a second half brace from 24-year-old Nadezhda Smirnova (CSKA Moscow) within 6 minutes gave her side a 4-0 lead. On March 10, Kosovo faced Slovenia in Pristina with the visitors triumphing 3-0.
The Netherlands are still in a strong position to win this group with 18 points from six wins out of six games. With their respective recent wins, Russia and Slovenia are deadlocked in second with 9 points, but Russia has only played 4 games to Slovenia's 6. The Russians have the inside track on second place, though any more dropped points will probably find them having to play another second place side home-and-away to make the England Finals. Competition debutants Kosovo have 6 points after 5 games but are seemingly out of the running for a second place finish.
Group B: Italy, Denmark, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Israel, Malta, Georgia
Group B had four matches—more than any other group—during this international window, with two matches on March 5, seeing host Bosnia and Herzegovina defeating Israel 1-0 and Malta holding off visiting Georgia 2-1 for the country's first ever top-level win in a qualifying campaign, after they earned their first point of the campaign in a 1-1 tie with Israel in November. Rachel Cuschieri scored her 11th goal for Malta to open the scoring. Cuschieri is now with PSV Vrouwen in the Netherlands, after playing in Cyprus and Belgium.
Two matches were again held on March 10 with Israel defeating Georgia 4-0 at home and Malta again hosting but this time falling 3-2 to visiting Bosnia and Herzegovina. Bosnia and Herzegovina jetted to a 3-0 lead through a hat trick by 17-year-old Sofija Krajsumovic by the 54th minute but an Emma Xuereb goal in the 79th and substitute Brenda Borg's goal three minutes into second half injury time left Malta just short of their second consecutive win. Emma Xuereb now has 3 goals with the national side while Brenda Borg scored her fifth. Before the game, Malta captain Dorianne Theuma was recognized with a commemorative shirt as she made her 100th appearance for the national team, the first player from the country to ever do that. Malta has four players based in Italy, including Nicole Sciberras with Juventus' youth team, as well as Cuschieri in the Netherlands and Maria Farrugia with Sutherland in England.
MALTA SQUAD FOR THE MARCH 2020 UEFA QUALIFIESRS
Janice Xuereb (Birkirkara); Jodie Attard (Raiders Għargħur)
Stephania Farrugia, Ann-Marie Said, Alishia Sultana (all Birkirkara); Emma Lipman (Florentia San Gimignano – Italy); Charlene Zammit (Swieqi United); Nicole Sciberras (Juventus – Italy)
Gabriella Zahra, Veronique Mifsud (both Birkirkara); Rachel Cuschieri (PSV Vrouwen – Netherlands); Jade Flask, Dorianne Theuma, Emma Xuereb (all Swieqi United); Claudette Xuereb (Mġarr United); Shona Zammit (Pink Bari – Italy)
Brenda Borg (Mġarr United); Maria Farrugia (Sunderland AFC Ladies – England); Haley Bugeja (Mġarr United); Martina Borg (Sassari Torres – Italy)
Italy has full points (18) in 6 games while undefeated Denmark (2017 EURO runners-up) is three points behind on 15 points after 5 wins in 5 games. With their two wins in March, Bosnia-Herzegovina is tied with 15 points but has played 7 games to 5 for Denmark. It still has been an impressive campaign for B&H, and bodes well for future international tournaments. Israel (4 points from 6 matches), Malta (4 points from 7 matches) and Georgia (0 points from 7 matches) are well off the pace and will try to pull the occasional point off of the top three the rest of the way in the tournament
Group D: Spain, Czech Republic, Moldova, Poland, Azerbaijan
Group D saw Poland defeating Moldova 5-0 in Warsaw on March 7 as 23-year-old Ewa Pajor (Wolfsburg of Germany) scored a hat trick. On March 11, Azergaijan hosted Poland but failed to score as Poland netted 5 times, with Ewa Pajor (Wolfsburg of Germany) and Aleksandra Sikora (in her second season with Juventus, winning the title last season as well as 2 Ekstraliga titles in Poland for Medyk Konin) scoring braces.
With the two wins, Poland is now tied with Spain at the head of the table on 7 points from 3 games, with a slight advantage over the Spaniards in goal differential (+10 to +8). Poland held Spain goalless at home in November and must pull points off of the 2015 and 2019 WWC Finals in the return and the two games with third place Czech Republic (6 points from 3 games) as the battle for the top two spots in this group will be fascinating. Spain did look quite strong in their U.S. trip for the SheBelieves Cup this month. Moldova is fourth with 3 points from 3 games and Azerbaijan is fifth with 0 points from 4 matches, scoring only 1 goal while allowing 16.
Group E: Finland, Scotland, Portugal, Albania, Cyprus
Group E saw only one game in March as, on March 11, Albania traveled to Cyprus and came home with a 2-0 win, with a first half goal by Megi Doci (Vllaznia of Shkoder, Albania where she has won three league titles) from the penalty spot and a second just after the hour mark by Zylfije Bajramaj (Hajvalia of Kosovo).
The Group E match was inconsequential to the playoff race as Finland leads the group with 10 points in 4 games, 2019 Women's World Cup finalists Scotland is second with 6 points from 2 games, Portugal has 4 points in 2 games, while Albania now has 3 points from 5 matches and Cyprus is fifth with 0 points and a 0-14 goals for/goals against tally.
Group G: France, Austria, Serbia, North Macedonia, Kazakhstan
In Group G, Serbia was at home to neighbors North Macedoneia and blasted them 8-1, with braces from 20-year-old Tijana Filipovic of Spartak Subotica and 24-year-old Jelena Cankovic (Rosengard of Sweden, who joined the Swedish champions early last season from Vaxjo in Sweden).
After the one March game in this group, the situation remains the same: Austria, a debutant at the 2017 EURO Finals, has four wins out of four games (12 points) while France has two wins from two games for 6 points. Serbia jumped into second with 9 points but has played 5 games. Serbia is in the lead to finish third ahead of their two Eastern European colleagues in North Macedonia (3 points) and Kazakhstan (0 points) but there would have to be some major upsets sprung by Serbia (at least) over the leaders to threaten Austria and France, with the latter looking so good in winning their own Tournoi de France this past week. Look for the second place side in this group to qualify directly for England without the need of a two-leg play-in against another second place Group finisher.
Group I: Germany, Republic of Ireland, Greece, Montenegro, Ukraine
In Group I, the Republic of Ireland defeated Greece 1-0 in Dublin (after dropping two points late to Greece away last year in a 1-1 draw) with the winner coming from defender Diane Caldwell (SC Sand of Germany) in the 45th minute. Caldwell scored only her second international goal on her 75th appearance, slotting home from close in after Arsenal's Louise Quinn got to a free kick from her club teammate Katie McCabe's in South Dublin's Tallaght Stadium in front of 4,511 On March 11, the Republic of Ireland traveled to face Montenegro in a tricky tie but another early goal by Diane Caldwell (SC Sand of Germany) in the 12th minute—her second winning goal in consecutive qualifiers—and then goals in the last 10 minutes from Katie McCabe (Arsenal) and Denise O'Sullivan (North Carolina Courage) sewed up the important win.
With their two wins in March, the Republic of Ireland is now in first place in the group with 13 points from 5 games, while Germany is on 12 points from 4 games. This group seems to now be between the top two sides, with Greece (4 points from 4 games), Ukraine (0 points from 3 games and 2 goals for versus 19 against) and Montenegro (0 points with 0 goals for and 19 against) needing a miracle and lots of help to finish even in second. The Irish still have their two games versus Germany to come as well as a trip to Ukraine—the goal being to finish with enough points in second to qualify directly to England 2021.
There were no group games this month in Groups C F or H
Group C: Norway, Wales, Belarus, Northern Ireland, Faroe Islands
Group F: Sweden, Iceland, Hungary, Slovakia, Latvia
Group H: Switzerland, Belgium, Romania, Croatia, Lithuania
Next week:We will have updates from the friendly internationals played throughout the world over the past two weeks and news from Asia on the Australia-Vietnam Olympic Games Finals Qualifier.
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