Tough World Cup draw for African women’s teams

NTHAKO MAJORO

MASERU – After Nigeria and Tanzania put up a good showing at this year’s FIFA Under-17 Women’s World Cup in India, pressure is now on the senior African teams to come to the party in the upcoming FIFA Women’s World Cup. The tournament will be played in Australia and New Zealand as co-hosts from July 20 to August 20 next year.Nigeria and Tanzania reached the semi-finals and quarter-finals of the FIFA Under-17 Women’s World Cup respectively, from three of the African continent’s representatives which included Morocco as the debutants at the age-group global football showpiece.

Now all eyes are focused on South Africa, Morocco, Nigeria and Zambia to make the African continent proud in the world tourney.Banyana Banyana, as the South Africa women’s national team is called, are drawn in Group G alongside South American powerhouse Argentina and European giants Italy and Sweden.Morocco are also in a tough draw in Group H alongside Germany, Colombia and South Korea.

Nigeria are pitted against Republic of Ireland, Canada and the co-hosts Australia in Group B, while Zambia face Spain, Costa Rica and Japan in Group C.  Nigeria has competed at all eight stagings of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, while Banyana Banyana (South Africa) will be making their second appearance at the global showpiece.  Morocco and Zambia, on the other hand, will be making their first appearance at the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

“But what makes me very happy is the fact that we are now having two countries from the COSAFA (Council of South African Football Associations) to the World Cup, which is South Africa and Zambia, and this is an indication that if we can try harder and create more competitions we will be having more countries in the coming World Cups,” said Maleshoane Mokhathi, the former president of the Lesotho Women’s Football Committee.

According to Mokhathi, who is also former Lesotho women’ senior national team (Mehalalitoe) player, Nigeria could put up a better showing if their World Cup experience is anything to go by.“I think currently Nigeria are the top ranking African nation in the FIFA rankings. Again, Nigeria is one country which has been to the World Cup several times and this put them in the very positive position.”Mokhathi also believes it will not be difficult for the Nigerian team to go beyond group stages, especially now that they are also pitted against debutant opponents, Republic of Ireland.

She said even Canada, who have won the Olympics before, will not be tough opponents for the Nigerian team.“So yes, Canada won the Olympics before and they have more than five appearances in the World Cup, but I don’t think that would make it tough for Nigeria.This is because football in the western Africa is physical and their (Nigeria) physical strength could be their advantage over their opponents,” Mokhathi said.

Zambia in Group C

 Mokhathi said Zambia should not be underestimated just because this is going to be their maiden appearance in the FIFA Women’s World Cup.“There is something happening in Zambian’s football when we look at the COSAFA. Yes, one can say COSAFA is not comparable to other international competitions, but I say even those others started somewhere.”Mokhathi is, however, not convinced that Zambia can match Spain and Japan.“Spain and Japan are the favourites here. Despite being among the top 20 nations in the FIFA rankings, these two nations are very fast on and off the ball, and so it’s up to Zambia to change their game plan.

But being the debutants and also without the experience of playing at such high level is something that is likely to work against them.”Mokhathi, however, said the friendly games which the Zambian team have played so far were very crucial.“But nevertheless, the friendly games they are playing will take them out of their comfort zone, and I hope they will take that challenge to the World Cup.”

South Africa in Group G

 According to Mokhathi, Banyana Banyana could also do well in the World Cup for they had an advantage of playing friendly games against big footballing nations like Brazil before, amongst others.“I would say Banyana Banyana have an advantage of playing some international friendly games against recognizable nations. They don’t just play an international game; they challenge themselves.”Mokhathi, however, said Banyana must work on their defence. She said this was since their opponents were not only tall but also comfortable on the ball.

“Sweden, Italy and Argentina have tall players who are very comfortable on the ball. Their positioning is also very good as well as their passing is accuracy. Those are the kind of things which I believe Desiree (Ellis) has worked on.”Mokhathi said Banyana woill also need to work on their psychology strength.“They just need to work on their psychological strength. Their psychologists must work hard to prepare them mentally.”

Mokhathi further said: “Their psychological strength can do wonders for them because to be honest, they have a lot of experience compared to all the African countries who qualified for the World Cup.”Apart from that, Mokhathi said Banyana could be a surprise package in the upcoming World Cup. She said the South Africa women’s team could even go beyond the group stages.“But there is also a chance that they could proceed further than that,” Mokhathi said.

 

Morocco in Group H

“There is a reason why Morocco has qualified for the World Cup. It is because of their physical strength. They are not there by default. They are there because they deserve to be there.”But Mokhathi said it’s not going to be easy for Morocco.

“It is not going to be very easy for Morocco, but all I can say is that they should go out there and play their best football and gain experience,” Mokhathi said.According to other local football experts, Puseletso Mokhosi, who is also a former president of the Lesotho Women’s Football Committee and former Mehalalitoe player, Nigeria could reach the quarter-finals of the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

“Group B is not such a tough group for Nigeria given that they possess a lot of experience from the WAFCON (Women’s Africa Cup of Nations) and World Cup.“So according to me, Nigeria stand a good chance of reaching the quarter finals and go beyond. They have a rich squad of players plying trade abroad and they are very active.”Mokhosi, on the other hand said it might be challenging for South Africa in Group G, especially against Italy and Sweden.

“It might be a challenging encounter for South Africa in Group G, looking at the recent performance of Sweden and Italy. For that reason, I don’t see South Africa making it through group stages, but maybe as best losers,” she said.“But since it is going to be their second appearance in the FIFA Women’s World Cup, let us hope they will use their past experience to their advantage.”The fact that Banyana will be without their star striker, Thembi Kgatlana, is another reason to doubt the South African team’s chances of doing well at the global showpiece.

Kgatlana suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon during the WAFCON in Morocco in July this year.“It is a sad blow for them to lose Kqatlana over the injury after her outstanding performance in the last World Cup. She is one lethal striker who was able to take on the big teams,” Mokhosi said.“But they do have two women coaches (Ellis and Nthabeleng ‘Dunga’ Modiko as head coach and assistant coach respectively) who have been with the team for long and who have tactical skills that can take South Africa far.”

Banyana won this year’s WAFCON tournament despite missing Kgatlana in the early stages of the competition, and Mokhosi said that experience will be key for Banyana in the World Cup. “With the experience of winning the WAFCON competition and also having a number of players plying trade abroad, Banyana stand a good chance to do well in the upcoming FIFA Women’s World Cup.” Zambia, Mokhosi said, is in the group of death against Spain, Japan and Costa Rico in Group C.

“This is a dare group for Zambia, having to play against Spain and Japan. But Zambia will put a good fight to prove their debutant and make history like they did in the last Olympics where despite that they didn’t make it to the quarter-finals but some individual brilliance was spotted.” Zambia came third in the last WAFCON tournament and Mokhosi said together with their Olympic Games experience, the Copper Queens should not be underestimated going to the FIFA Women’s Cup. Mokhosi cannot say the same thing about Morocco in Group C.

“This group is a bit challenging for Morocco since it is their first appearance in big stage and they are against big names in Germany and Korea,” Mokhosi said. As a result, Mokhosi said chances that Morocco could not go beyond group stages are very slim. This is despite the fact that Morocco reached the final of the last WAFCON competition. Mokhosi also said Morocco’s other disadvantage could be the fact that they didn’t have enough players playing abroad. But she said their local based players are mostly from AS FAR, the Moroccan champions currently competing for the Confederation of African Football (CAF) Women’s Champions League title.

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