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The Week in Women's Football: African Women's Cup of Nations/World Cup second round qualifiers

This week we review the 7 Confederation of African Football second round ties held earlier this month for the Africa Women's Cup of Nations, which doubles as the 2019 Women's World Cup Qualifiers. These two leg ties were held from June 7 through June 12, which saw one 2015 WWC finalist fail to the make the African Finals in November in Ghana.

African Women's Cup of Nations/Women's World Cup Second Round Qualifiers

Algeria, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Mali, Nigeria, South Africa and Zambia advanced to the Finals to join host Ghana from the second round of the African Women's Cup of Nations in early June; the Finals are also used to determine the 3 African Confederation qualifiers for the 2019 Women's World Cup (the top 3 finishers advancing). 2015 debutants Ivory Coast were narrowly eliminated by Mali in the surprise upset of the tournament so far.

Equatorial Guinea vs. Kenya

Kenya took an important 2-1 advantage from their first leg at home against Equatorial Guinea. Jade Boho Sayo (Madrid in Spain but who played for a short time in 2016 with Bristol) opened the scoring for Equatorial Guinea after heading home a corner from Genoveva Anonman (a true native of Equatorial Guinea, who played this season for Duisburg in Germany, and has played for Mamelodi Sundowns in South Africa, Portland Thorns in the NWSL in 2015, in the Korea Republic, Spain and Israel). The Hamarbee Starlets tied up the game two minutes later through Teresa Engesha (Vihiga Queens of Kenya) from a tremendous equalizer from distance with the goalkeeper off her line. Gloria Chinasa (Nigerian-born who has played in Albania, Belarus, Lithuania and Poland) put a header on frame but Kenyan keeper Poline Atieno (Makolanders of Kenya) made a brilliant save in the 70th minute. Kenyan substitute Esse Akida (Spedag of Kenya) scored the winner in the 84th minute after Cynthia Shilwatso's (Vihiga Queens) crossed the ball into the box. It was Kenya's second win in a row as they won a final warm-up match against Kenyan Women League leaders Thika Queens by a 5-0 scoreline. The team's positive results, particularly after a first round 1-0 aggregate victory over Uganda, has helped to build support and visibility in the country, where government investment and support for women's tournaments has been scant and fleeting in the staff, not allowing the coaching staff to build a side capable of competing at the continental level.

However, the experienced Equatorial Guinea team, who made the Women's World Cup Finals in Germany 2011 and won the African continental title in 2008 and 2012 and was runners-up in 2010—the only side to win the title other than Nigeria—turned the tables on the East Africans with a 2-0 home win for a 3-2 aggregate victory. Gloria Chinasa Okoro and Salome Nke Noah (a native of Cameroon) both scored in the second half for Equatorial Guinea.Harambee Starlets coach David Ouma could not repeat the feat in guiding his side to the continental finals, as he did for the first time two years ago.

However, as always it seems with games involving Equatorial Guinea, there was controversy over their roster. The Kenyan Football Federation filed a complaint against the team, focused on Celestina Manga Besecu, who they claim is from Cameroon and whose real name is Fadimatou Veronique Nsongone. The complaint was filed before the game when Manga Besecu was on the official starting lineup card. She then was replaced but came on in the second half as a substitute. Another player in the crosshairs was Laetita Chapeh, who plays in France with Lille, and is also a native of Cameroon. She played one season in the Equatorial Guinean league at Waiso Ipola, but according to FIFA rules, must live in a country for five years to become a citizen. Chapeh then played in Poland and Lithuania before moving to France. In addition, newspaper reports questioned the credentials of several other players: Annette Msomo's nationality was challenged as well as Jacky Messomo, who has played in Cameroon and in Slovakia. Gloria Chisana Okoro, who now plays in France with FC Rouen and has played in Nigeria, Poland, Lithuania, Belarus and Albania, but no record of her time in Equatorial Guinea's league exists. In addition, Luz Obono was not registered for the first leg but played anyway. FIFA's nationality rules have always caught out EG, who have fielded players from around Africa as well as Brazil, some of the latter of whom seemed to have not played club ball at all in Equatorial Guinea. Strangely, Equatorial Guinea had been banned from the 2019 WWC by FIFA for many irregularities in registering 10 foreign nationals in their side and forging documents. CAF allowed them to compete for the African Championship, which is good for their team continuity as they are definitely a force in the Pan-African women's game, but Kenya can now feel justifiably aggrieved after the narrow loss by a team with a roster of questionable legitimate national team status. The matter will be probably be finally determined in CAF corridors and Kenya is holding out hope that they will still be allowed to travel to Ghana this fall.

South Africa vs. Lesotho

For Lesotho's second round tie against South Africa, Banyana Banyana had won all the previous matches between the two neighboring countries (the Kingdom of Lesotho is completely surrounded by South Africa), including a 3-0 victory during last year's regional Women's COSAFA Cup tournament in Zimbabwe. South Africa defeated Zimbabwe 2-1 to win that regional title.

Lesotho had two squad members abroad: Captain Boitumelo Rabale, plays with Bloemfontein Celtic, where she has won consecutive South Africa National Women's Championship titles in 2016 and 2017. Before the African Cup of Nations series, Rabale said: "I think the gap between us and them (South Africa) has closed in recent years and we just have to be fearless going into that match. This is a very big game for us and winning it can change women's football for the better in Lesotho. I really feel that we have grown in leaps and bounds in recent years because our league here at home has also improved. So I'm confident that we will rise to the occasion in both matches. There will be a lot at stake for us as a country and of course for me as an individual, as I have my teammates from Celtic in the South African team. I have a good feeling that we will do well as long as we are fearless."

Teammate Senate Letsie plays collegiately in the United States with Lewis and Clark Community College in Illinois and scored 14 goals (3 of which were game winners) with 12 assists as a freshman last season. Letsie said before the tie: "This is a chance for us to write a new football history for women's football in Lesotho. We are ready for the challenge ahead of us and want to make our people proud by beating South Africa. The spirit is very high in our camp and we looking forward to the match."

Interesting, South African head coach Desiree Ellis used an entirely home-based side, not calling in any of the three Houston Dash players with experience with Banyana Banyana: Janine Van Wyk, Thembi Kgatlana and Linda Motlhalo, who all now play for the former South African National Team coach Vera Pauw in Texas.

Lesotho should be proud in holding South Africa to a 1-0 victory at home at the Setsoto Stadium in Maseru in the first leg, but fell 6-0 four days later in the return in Bloemfontein, for a 7-0 aggregate victory. In the second leg, forwards Jermaine Seoposenwe (UWC Ladies) and Chantelle Esau (Maelodi Sundowns) each scored a brace, along with a goal each from midfielders Hilda Magaia (TUT-PTA) and Leandra Smeda (UWC Ladies).

Nigeria vs. Gambia.

Gambia's Queen Scorpions likewise held heavy favorites Nigeria to a narrow 1-0 victory at home in Bakau before losing the second away leg by the same large margin (6-0) to see the Super Falcons advance to the Women's Africa Cup of Nations for the 13th time—having never missed a tournament—on a 7-0 total aggregate margin, and attempting to win its 11th title in Ghana. In the first leg, Amarachi Okoronkwo's (Nasarawa Amazons) long range shot was the difference while in the 6-0 second leg victory, Desire Oparanozie (EA Guingamp, France) exploded for four goals while reigning African Women's Player of the Year Asisat Oshoala (Dalian Quanjian, China) added two.

Swedish Coach Thomas Dennerby had invited 10 foreign-based players to training camp ahead of the Gambia series, with six from Sweden, two from China and one each from France and the U.S. Besides forwards Oshoala and Oparanozie, the other imports were: defenders Osinachi Ohale (Vittsjo GK, Sweden), Onome Ebi (Henan Huishang, China), Josephine Chukwunonye (Asarum IF, Sweden) and Faith Ikidi (Pitea IF, Sweden). Midfielders from abroad included: Halimat Ayinde (Asarum IF, Sweden); Ngozi Okobi (Eskilstuna United, Sweden) and Rita Chikwelu (KDFF, Sweden) and forward: Francisca Ordega (Washington Spirit, USA). For Gambia, coach Mariama Sowe—who won domestic titles in the local domestic league—used an entirely home-based roster.

After Gambia's first round defeat of Burkina Faso on penalties after a 3-3 aggregate deadlock, their federation awarded match bonuses of One Hundred and Fifty Seven Thousand Dalasi (D157,000:00 or US$3,300) to the team. The President of the Gambia Football Federation, Lamin Kabba Bajo said: "I want to thank the technical team and all the support staff for making us proud. We will continue to give you all the support and will go [the] extra mile to making sure that all the necessary logistics are accomplished for you." GFF Executive Committee Member Alagi Faye also congratulated the team: "We are very proud of you and be assured that the GFF will support you all the way because you do not disappoint us." Each of the players received D5000:00 (US$100). It's good to see the Gambian Federation rewarding their players and continuing to support the women's game and we hope to see more federations following this strong example.

Zambia versus Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe was poised for a huge upset over Zambia with a 1-0 away win in the first leg but Zambia won 2-1 the second leg in Harare to deadlock the tie 2-2 and advance to the Finals on 2 away goals to 1. This is Zambia's third visit to the finals, making the quarterfinals in 1995 and losing in the group stage in 2014 in Namibia. Zimbabwe actually bid for the 2015 WWC—the only other country vying against ultimate winners Canada—and played in the 2016 Olympic Games, losing their three first round matches to Germany, Canada and Australia, but scoring against each side.

Rutendo Makore (Sporting Hueva in Spain, where she scored three goals in 9 games last season) scored the only goal in the first match for Zimbabwe. She scored again in the first half of the second leg, but Helen Chanda (Red Arrows) scored in the 54th minute with Barbra Banda (Green Buffalos) scoring the crucial aggregate tying score in the 87th minute for Zambia's Shepolopolo. Bruce Mwape had recently taken over as Shepolopolo coach a month after replacing Albert Kachinga, who quit to take a club appointment.

Cameroon vs. Congo

Cameroon exploded for 5 road goals in the first leg against Congo and then won the return by the same score to advance 10-0 on aggregate. They hope to make the World Cup for the second consecutive event, where they finished11th in 2015 and advanced to the round of 16, where they fell to China 1-0. They have made every addition of the African Women's Cup of Nations since 1991, with 2018 being their 13th consecutive tournament, qualifying each time (as hosts in 2016) though they withdrew from the finals in 1995 before the quarterfinal stage, providing Angola with a walkover. They have finished runners-up in 1991, 2004, 2014 and 2016, losing to Nigeria each time.

A number of Cameroonian players have played club ball abroad, typically throughout Europe. Defenders Cathy Bou Ndjouh played in Minsk Belarus in 2015, Yvonne Leuko played in France with ASPTT Albi last season and Claudine Meffometou played last season with Guingamp and in 2014 with Zvezda Perm in Russia, where she won a title. Other defenders included Mari Awona, who played with Soyaux in France for years, Augustin Ejangue played with Santa Teresa in Spain last season after time in Norway, Russia and Denmark, where she won a league title in 2015/16, Christine Manie won four league titles in Romania and Ysis Sonkeng has played the last two years in Sweden's second division with Sundsvall.

Midfielder Raissa Feudjio played the last three seasons in Finland with Aland United after one season with Merilappi United while Genevieve Ngo Mbeleck played this past season with Sporting de Huelva, scoring twice in 24 games, after winning a title in Belarussia with Minsk.

Forward Gaelle Enganamouit (26) is with Avaldsness this season in Norway after time with Rosengard and Eskilstuna in Sweden and Serbia, Madeleine Ngono has played in France and in Belarus with Minsk, Jeannette Yango played for Potsdam in Germany in the past, Ajara Nchout is with Sandviken in Norway after time with Western New York Flash (2015) and in Russia, Gabrille Onguene is with CSKA Moscow for her second year, after winning a title with Rossiyanka in 2016 and Francine Zouga is with VGA Saint Maur in the French second division.

Mali versus Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast and Mali deadlocked 2-2 in an exciting match in the first leg in Abidjan and Mali surprisingly held the 2015 Women's World Cup veterans to a 0-0 deadlock at home in the second leg so Mali advanced on away goals. Mali participated in four consecutive finals from 2002 through 2010 and then in 2016 in Cameroon but have never advanced from the Group stage. The Ivory Coast finished 23rd of 24 teams in the 2015 World Cup in Canada, having won their place with a surprising third place finish at the 2014 African Championships, only their second tournament after losing in the group stage 2 years earlier. It will be interesting to follow Mali's preparation for Ghana as they prepare to challenge for an African title and a Women's World Cup Finals spot.

Algeria vs. Ethiopia

Algeria won the first leg at home 3-1 against Ethiopia and then surprised some with a 3-2 road victory for a 6-3 aggregate victory and is the only North African side to advance to the Finals in Ghana in mid-November. Algeria will appear in their fifth African Women Cup of Nations Final, after 2004, 2006, 2010 and 2014, while missing the 2016 finals in Cameroon. The "Les Dames Fennecs" have never advanced past the group stage and have won only 2 games out of 12 in the final stage.

In the second leg, Naima Bouhani-Benziane (FC Constantine) scored once and assisted on France-based Myriam Benlazar's (ASPTT Albi, France) winner in the second half while defender Fatima Sekouane (FC Constantine) scored from a header just before half time. Kahina Takenint (A.S.S.N.), despite surrendering two goals to Ethiopia in the second half from potent Ethiopian striker Loza Abera (Dedebit), was strong in goal.

Salem Zereaye, Ethiopia's head coach, said after the second game: "We tried to field a team that can attack. We had setbacks in our attacking plan and that led our visitors to grab two goals. The goals we conceded totally brought us down. They (Algeria) effectively capitalized on our weak links and played on counters to get goals. We showed character until the end but eventually lost the tie. I am content with our performance today. I take full responsibility of the outcome of the duel." His couterpart, Azzedine Chih of Algeria, said: "I am very happy with the result we have notched. Our objective was simple and clear—to get a ticket that can take us to Ghana. Ethiopia has a very strong side and they were better than us but we were good at getting goals. I think our goal scoring prowess is what got us a spot at the final tournament. Performance-wise the game was very fantastic. I am very glad to see a lot of people watching the game in the Addis Ababa Stadium."

Algeria used two players from France and two from Canada in their squad. Assia Sidhoum played at the University of Niagara in New York State, just across the border, but now plays semi-professionally in Laval, Quebec with CS Monteuil. Imane Chebel played as a freshman last year with the University of Concordia in Montreal. Lydia Belkacemi, based in France with Stade Bestois, was capped by France's U-16 and U-19 national teams but was persuaded to play for Algeria at the senior level. For the finals, they could also bring in Jinane Hanni (22), who plays in France with ASPTT Albi, and is the younger sister of Spartak Moscow's Algerian men's national teamer Sofiane Hanni.Besides Hanni, Algeria may try to utilize more diaspora for the Finals, though for North Americans, it will fall smack in the middle of school seasons, particularly college playoffs.

Algeria's full side for the Ethiopia ties was:

Habiba Sadou (A.S.S.N)

Zineb Kendouci (A.S.S.N)

Isma Ouadah (A.S.S.N)

Chahrazed Bensekrane (A.S.S.N)

Fatima Bara (A.S.S.N)

Kahina Takenint (A.S.S.N)

Rayane Brahimi (FC Constantine)

Imene Merrouche (FC Constantine)

Naima Bouhani-Benziane (FC Constantine)

Fatima Sekouane (FC Constantine)

Nadjet Fedoul (FC Constantine)

Rahma Benaichouche (Mz.Biskra)

Keltoum Aouda Arbi (Affak Relizane)

Khadidja Nefidsa (ASE Alger Centre)

Marek Djamila (ASE Alger Centre)

Benaissa Djamila (Akbou FC)

Assia Rabhi (Akbou FC)

Yasmine Myriam Benlazar (ASPTT Albi, France)

Lydia Belkacemi (Stade Brestois 29, France)

Assia Sidhoum (UQAM, Canada)

Imane Chebel (U. Concordia, Canada).

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

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