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The Week in Women's Football: Exclusive with Zaragoza midfielder Gotta; CAF U17 World Cup qualifiers; New champion in Zambia

This week, we profile Madeline Gotta, who played four years at Gonzaga University and then went to Spain to play with Zaragoza, where the season has been interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. She talks to about the process of moving from a smaller university in a lower profile college conference to a team in a major European market. We also look again at news from Africa, with the U-17 FIFA Women's World Cup in India dividing the CAF Qualifying Field to 6 teams after six, two leg ties last month. We also look at the finals of the first year National Women's League in Zambia.

Madeline Gotta moves from Gonzaga University to Zaragoza in Spain

Gonzaga University is a small private university located in Spokane Washington, 300 miles east of soccer-mad Seattle. Gonzaga has a student population of 7,500, with about one-third graduate or law school students, located in a mid-size city of 220,000. Gonzaga is well known for its men's and women's basketball program. The men made the NCAA Basketball Final game in 2017—an incredible achievement for a smaller university that does not have a football team and that resulting spinoff revenue—and lost 71-65 to traditional power The University of North Carolina, though GU led the game with less than 2 minutes left. Both basketball programs have sent players to the pros, notably on the men's side the Washington Wizards rookie and Japanese international Rui Hachimura and Indiana Pacers All Star Game member in 2020 and Lithuanian international Domantas Sabonis as well as Courtney Vandersloot of the Chicago Sky of the WNBA, who was a 2019 All Star and long-time player in Cyprus, Poland, Russia and Turkey. It's not as common to see professionals come out of the soccer programs, particularly on the women's side which has made the NCAA playoffs only once (in 2005) in 28 seasons, and only 8 winning seasons, but the team now has had three consecutive winning campaigns in a row since Chris Watkins joined as head coach in 2017 (he was previously an assistant at powerhouse Brigham Young University in Utah). The 2019 side tied the team's all-time record with 12 wins in 2019 (along with 2005 and 2007).

Madeline Gotta with Gonzaga University—Photo courtesy: Madeline Gotta/Gonzaga University.

Therefore it's notable that Madeline Gotta signed at the end of January with Zaragoza of the Spanish Second Division. Tribal talked exclusively with Gotta at the end of March as she was back in the States while the Spanish League was in shutdown due to the COVID-19 virus pandemic. The San Diego native explained her move abroad, "I always kind of had in the back of my mind to continue playing after college. The NWSL was not around when I was growing up, so it was not a dream to play in a particular league. Women's soccer was still developing when I was growing up—it still is. I knew I didn't want to be done after my senior year. I love the sport and didn't want it to be over."

She talked to her coaches at Gonzaga during her junior year and told them about her goal to play professionally and they helped her after formal practices (and any other player who wanted the help) with individual coaching and drills, which she felt "prepared her by the end of her senior season." She applied for the NWSL College Draft that was held in January but was not selected—not a surprise coming from a smaller school in a smaller conference (West Coast Conference with rivals Pepperdine and Santa Clara more typically sending players to the pros). She then explored player agents at the end of her final season (last November) but hadn't signed when one came to the holding midfielder with an offer to play with Zaragoza. She had to fly almost immediately to Spain to sign her contract before the transfer window closed. She played in 4 games before the shutdown. She is currently finishing her degree at Gonzaga through online courses, which most American colleges have done since the pandemic was declared in March

Unfortunately when she signed, Zaragoza was in the promotion picture for the Primera Division Femenina [First Division] for the 2020-21 season but a run of 1 win and 1 tie in 7 matches have left them mid-table in the 16 team league, in eighth place with 10 wins, 2 ties and 10 losses for 32 points for the 2019-20 season that was originally due to finish in May. Gotta has found the play in Spain less direct and physical and more technical compared to America; the different of play has, "been good to help my game grow as a player." Her athleticism, particularly as a holding midfielder, "has differentiated her" as a player abroad.

Madeline Gotta running the midfield in 2020 for Zaragoza in Spain—Photo courtesy: Madeline Gotta.

Gotta's contract was for the remainder of the 2019-20 season with an option for next season. Everything for clubs and players around the world right now is on hold and subject to change due to the global pandemic. Regardless of whether she returns to Spain or plays elsewhere, Gotta has helped to blaze a trail for Gonzaga University women's footballers as one of a very few to play abroad, joining forward Walker (Amalia) Loseno, who after her senior year competed for Greece in the 2004 Olympics that the country hosted, as the country's football federation imported their American diaspora in mass in order to make a competitive showing (which they largely did), before putting the side into mothballs for a few years afterwards. Gotta has shown club managers and coaches abroad that there is talent at smaller, less well known university programs in the States.

CAF FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup Qualifiers

The African Football Confederation held 6 two leg ties in the U-17 African WWC First Round qualifiers in late February and early March, with the six winners advancing to the Second Round, from which three will qualify for the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup in India, currently set for November 2-21. One tie's second leg was still to be played after the March 14 final legs were staged, between Botswana and Morocco U-17's but the spot in the final round was later awarded to Morocco based on the first leg result (see below) after Botswana refused to travel to Northern Africa because of the COVID-19 virus. In the other ties, Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda advanced to the last round of qualifying, with the 3 winners at that time earning a trip to India for the FIFA Finals. These final matches were originally scheduled to be played on April 30 and May 14 (which will likely be delayed) and the draw has pitted underdogs Morocco versus South Africa (who are hosts in the first leg), Uganda hosting Cameroon to start the two leg set and Nigeria traveling to neighbor Ghana for the first match.

Zambia was confident that they could continue their roll from the success of the Olympic Team, which upset Cameroon to qualify directly to the Tokyo Olympics for the first time ever a day earlier when they went to South Africa with a 2-0 advantage from the home leg on February 28. However, in Johannesburg, the hosts won out through captain Jessica Wade (Janine Van Wyk or JVW FC), who broke the deadlock on 12 minutes before second half strikes from Nelly Gamede (Coal City Wizards FC in Witbank) and 14-year-old substitute Kananelo Taiwe (Bloemfontein Celtic Ladies in the National Women's League) completed the comeback for Bantwana. South Africa had made the U-17 WWC Finals in 2010 in Trinidad and Tobago and in 2018 in Uruguay.

Tanzania's U-17 women's side defeated neighboring Uganda's U-17s in their home leg on March 1 by a 2-1 scoreline. Fauzia Najjemba (Captain of Kampala Queens in the FUFA Women's Super League) gave Uganda the lead in the first game after only six minutes, but 16-year-old Aisha Masaka of Tanzania (Alliance Queens and one of the best young strikers on the continent), who led the entire qualifying tournament with 5 goals, scored twice (28th and 88th minute) and even missed a penalty kick in the process. Uganda warmed up for the tie with an 11-0 defeat of Ugandan local side Watoto Girls. It probably wasn't sufficient competition for them but after the first leg head coach Ayub Khalifa blamed the weather for the defeat, "I cannot blame my players. The temperature was too high and we could not play to our standard. I am looking forward to the second leg. I don't see Tanzania having a chance of a win in Uganda. I am assuring Ugandans home victory, we are going to change the results and qualify." He didn't seem concern that the Tanzanians might read his comments and take offense. However Khalifa proved to be clairvoyant as Uganda advanced with a 5-0 home victory and 6-2 aggregate win. Juliet Nalukenge (Kawempe Muslim Secondary School WFC in Uganda and also a member of the Crested Cranes U-20 national team and the reigning Ugandan footballer of the year) scored a second half brace with Margret Kunihira (Kawempe Muslim SS), Fauzia Najjemba (Mukono High) and Grace Aluka also scoring. After the second leg, the Tanzanian Football Federation filed an appeal of the result. Tanzania coach Bakari Shime accused the Ugandans of fielding five over-age players who were not in the side during the first leg, "We have lost the game but our opponents have definitely not been honest enough…they chose to field over-aged players,"

Cameroon easily bested Sao Tome and Principe 10-0 on aggregate, wining 4-0 on the road on March 1 and then 6-0 at home in the return on March 14 for a 10-0 aggregate victory. Brenda Tabe (Awa FC de Yaounde, who has scored 16 goals for her club this season) scored a brace before a goal each from Suzie Mbianji (Anafoot), Elise Ndome (Louves Minproof), Michaely Bihina (Éclair de Sa'a) and Larissa Luma sealed a place at the final round for the Cameroonians.

Ghana defeated Liberia, winning 2-0 away on March 1 and then 8-0 in Accra for another 10-0 aggregate win. Forward Ophelia Amponsah (Ampem Darkoa in Ghana's National Women's League, which started its fourth season earlier this year) scored an incredible four goals in the opening 14 minutes before Salamatu Abdulai (Bagabaga Ladies) and Elizabeth Oppong gave the Maidens a 6-0 lead at the break. Ghana made the quarterfinals in Uruguay in 2018 as Mukarama Abdulai won the tournament's Golden Boot with 7 goals and plays at Northern Ladies FC; she is still age eligible but did not make the final roster as she has played in the Olympic Qualifiers) and finished third in Azerbaijan in 2012 (in the third edition of the tournament) and are the continental leaders at this level.

Nigeria's U-17 Flamingos easily defeated Guinea, winning the away leg 6-1 in Conakry on March 7 and then 5-2 seven days later at the Agege Stadium in Lagos for a 11-2 aggregate win. Toyin Lawal scored a brace in the second leg to lead the Flamingos.

Morocco traveled all the way to the southern end of the continent and came home with a surprising win over Botswana's Young Zebras 1-0 in the National Stadium in Gaborone on February 28. Botswana coach Tapaphiwa Gaebolae was upbeat after the first leg that her team could overcome the loss in the return leg, when he said, "If they managed to beat us on our home soil we can do same at their backyard. Credit goes to my girls; they played well even though they did not convert their chances. We will rectify our mistakes before leaving for Morocco." The second leg in Morocco was delayed because of the COVID-19 outbreak when Botswana did not want to travel for it and then Morocco was awarded a spot in the last six by CAF based on that surprising first leg win.

Thinking ahead to India, where this event will be very important to helping grow acceptance of the women's game in the subcontinent where it has struggled mightily, games will be held in 5 stadia across the vast country:

EKA Arena (25,000 capacity) in Ahmedabad, Gujarat in the Northwest

DY Patil Stadium (55,000 capacity) in Navi Mumbai, Maharashtra in the West

Salt Lake Stadium (Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan (85,000 capacity) in Kolkata in the Southeast.

Kalinga Stadium (15,000 capacity) in Bhubaneswar, Odisha, in the central part of the country.

Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium (23,850 capacity) in Guwahati, Assam in the far Northwest.

Bhubaneswar and Navi Mumbai will host the semifinals with the latter hosting the 3rd-4th place and Final game.

Tribal will continue to follow the road to India as well as the Finals, as the U-17 tournament has been a path for future success for players at the club and full national team level.

Green Buffaloes win new National Women's League title in Zambia

Green Buffaloes have been crowned the inaugural Zambia National Women's League champions after a 9-0 win over Queens Academy in the playoff final at Nkoloma Stadium in Lusaka on March 15. Buffaloes included a number of players from the national team of Zambia, the Copper Queens, which recently qualified directly to the next Olympic Games after a shocking aggregate 4-4 (away goals) defeat over African power Cameroon. Green Buffaloes included first-choice goalkeeper Hazel Nali, defenders Margret Belemu and Lushomo Mweemba, midfielder Ireen Lungu and Anita Mulenga plus striker Rachel Nachula. Missing was midfielder Mary Mwakapila, who was suspended for the final after she was sent-off 24 hours earlier in the semifinals.

Nachula scored four goals while Zambia Under-20 striker Maylan Mulenga scored a brace. Lungu Cynthia Mutale and Joanna Benaya scored a goal each. Nali said, "It was a tough game (against Indeni) in the semifinals that was supposed to be the final but all-in-all, it has been a great tournament. But I feel great and it feels great to be a champion."

Buffaloes reached the final following a 3-1 post-match penalties victory over their archrivals Indeni Roses following a 1-1 draw on March 14. Queens Academy sealed their passage to the final after an emphatic 10-0 win over Solwezi Academy the same day. We would like to see a few days at least between the semifinals and finals, but a vibrant local Zambian league—which successfully completed its first season—will only continue to benefit the development of talent in the country.

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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