FIFA Women’s World Cup – The pros and cons of each African team

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All African teams will head into the Women’s World Cup as underdogs, but Nigeria have twice made the knockout rounds and will be out to prove they are still Africa’s dominant force.

The tournament in Australia and New Zealand (July 20 – August 20) will see four African representatives out of 32 participating teams, with Morocco and Zambia making their debuts, while Nigeria will be appearing for the ninth time and South Africa their second.

South Africa

Pros: South Africa have momentum behind them as African champions, having won the most recent Women’s Africa Cup of Nations. Many of their players have vital overseas experience, which they can lean on during crucial Group G battles.

Refiloe Jane has played in Italy since 2019 (previously for AC Milan and currently Sassuolo) and will therefore be able to pass on insight about the Italian national team, which will likely largely consist of her familiar friends and adversaries at club level.

Likewise, Linda Motlhalo has experience playing in Sweden, who Banyana Banyana will also face, although they will likely pull on plenty of foreign-based talent.

In 2019, South Africa were new to life at the FIFA Women’s World Cup. This time, they are more experienced and coach Desiree Ellis has had more than enough time to leave her mark on the team, having been appointed as interim manager in 2016 and head coach in 2018.

Cons: South Africa only has a semi-professional women’s league, which is dominated by Mamelodi Sundowns. There is plenty of talent in the country, but a shortage of development structures to nurture it.

Star striker Thembi Kgatlana (Racing Louisville FC) said in a recent interview with ESPN that South Africa’s lack of a technical centre, in addition to the absence of a professional women’s league, could cost them their place on top of Africa.

There has also been discontent within the squad, as they boycotted a friendly against Botswana on July 2, claiming mistreatment from the South African Football Association (SAFA).

The players were reportedly unhappy with the quality of the field on which they were asked to play, as well as the strength of their warm-up opponents. Furthermore, they were unhappy with SAFA’s unwillingness to promise them a substantially increased financial package.

The association’s apparent hesitance to reward their players comes despite FIFA paying $30,000 per player minimum in prize money, leaving Sundowns owner Patrice Motsepe to step in and fund the shortfall.

On the field, Banyana have plenty of tremendously skillful players, but a shortage of out-and-out lethal finishers. There will be pressure on Kgatlana to find the back of the net.

They stand a chance against Argentina, but finishing above both La Albiceleste and at least one of Sweden or Italy is a tough ask, and a top two finish in the group is required in order to qualify for the next round.

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Rosella Ayane: Morocco on the right track ahead of World Cup

Rosella Ayane believes new investment in Morocco’s women’s football will help them compete with England in the near future.

Morocco

Pros: Moroccan women’s football has risen rapidly in recent years, with forward Rosella Ayane (Tottenham Hotspur) the star overseas-based addition to a squad with a solid core of local players.

Morocco have sought to develop talent locally, with their federation announcing the creation of a professional women’s league with two tiers in 2020.

Last year, the results of years of planning were on full display. Not only did Morocco make the final of the WAFCON in their first appearance since 2000 and their first foray ever beyond the group stage, but they also claimed club continental honours.

ASFAR dominated defending champions Mamelodi Sundowns 4-0 in the final, avenging Banyana Banyana’s WAFCON final triumph at Morocco’s expense.

Furthermore, Morocco have been placed in a manageable group. South Korea and Colombia have never made it beyond a World Cup round of 16, while even favourites Germany are long past their golden era.

Cons: In a word, inexperience. Morocco do not have the same level of muscle memory from high pressure scenarios as their African counterparts, serial winners Nigeria or current WAFCON queens South Africa.

This is their first appearance at a Women’s World Cup and they were well below par in the early minutes of the WAFCON final, which suggests that there is still work to be done on their big game management.

England-born Ayane aside, they also do not have overseas-based players who are both experienced and playing at the highest level.

The foundations are in place for Moroccan women’s football to build an identity from grassroots up to the Atlas Lionesses. For now, this team is a work in progress – a mere glimpse of what could be to come from African women’s football’s next potential superpower.

Nigeria

Pros: Nigeria not only have the most experienced squad in competitive situations such as the World Cup, but they also have more depth than their competitors.

On paper, they also have the most balance in their ranks, with quality tried-and-tested players in every position. Notably, they have Paris FC‘s Chiamaka Nnadozie in goal, Houston Dash‘s versatile Michelle Alozie and Deportivo Alavés’ Osinachi Ohale in defence, Sevilla‘s Toni Payne on the flanks, Rosengård’s Halimatu Ayinde in midfield and star striker Asisat Oshoala (Barcelona).

Cons: Coach Randy Waldrum has given himself a tough task as he looks to keep morale in the squad high, despite making a selection choice which did not go down well within Nigeria – excluding veteran Ngozi Okobi-Okeoghene from his World Cup squad.

The Levante Las Planas midfielder did not see a significant amount of club action in 2022/23, appearing 10 times in the Primera Iberdrola and racking up a total of 338 league minutes. However, she was one of their more impressive players at the WAFCON, where Nigeria finished a disappointing fourth, and is hugely popular in the country.

Additionally, the relationship between the Super Falcons players and their national federation has been tense at best for some time, with regular protests from players pertaining to alleged financial mistreatment.

Australia, the Republic of Ireland and Canada will all likely prove difficult to beat in Group B, one of the toughest in the tournament.

Zambia

Pros: Shanghai Shengli’s Barbra Banda is eligible for the World Cup after being controversially denied the chance to play in the WAFCON due to high testosterone levels.

Furthermore, she is no longer the only star in the building. Racheal Kundananji’s 25 goals in the 2022/23 Primera Iberdrola season for Madrid CFF left her as the league’s second-highest scorer and so Zambia’s already impressive forward line is looking even stronger than at the Olympics, where Banda announced herself to the world.

Kundananji’s Madrid teammate, Grace Chanda, also held her own in the 2022/23 season from midfield. With Chanda 26 years of age and Banda and Kundananji each 23, all three players are likely only just entering their prime.

Offensively, Zambia have the tools to go toe-to-toe with anyone they come across. Kundananji and Chanda’s knowledge of Spanish top-flight football is likely to come in handy when Zambia face Spain.

Cons: The Copper Queens have been handed a tough draw in Group C alongside Spain, Costa Rica and Japan.

Zambia’s defensive frailties were exposed severely at the Tokyo Olympics, where they conceded 15 goals in three games, shipping double digits against the Netherlands in a 10-3 defeat in which Banda scored a hat-trick.

By qualifying for both the Olympics and the World Cup, this generation of Copper Queens stars proved that they are far from a one-hit wonder, but they still lack the experience of Nigeria and their Group C opponents.

Verdict: On paper, Nigeria’s squad is still the best in Africa, but in reality, the mood in their camp sets them several steps back. South Africa have joined the discontent party too, which could scupper their chances.

Morocco has unity and momentum behind them, and due to the Atlas Lionesses having a more favourable draw, they are the most likely of the four competing African sides to emulate their men’s team and carry the flag for Africa at this World Cup.

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