Burundi and Botswana played out a thrilling match in the final match of the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations matchday one. Botswana running out 4-2 winners. The Mares will be delighted with the way in which they took their chances. And this puts them ahead of rivals South Africa and champions Nigeria in Group C.
Mares take their chances
If the previous match in the day between the Super Falcons and Banyana Banyana was a tense affair, this was anything but. It was simply two sides playing attacking football with chances galore at both ends.
But the Southern Africans were the more clinical of the two sides, scoring some superb goals along the way. Coming into the tournament, it was known that the Mares’ strength was at the top of the pitch. But no one expected Gaoletlhoo Nkutlwisang’s side to play quite so positively.
They played with a front four, which often became five when Mokgabo Thanda pressed on from midfield to join the attack. But they showed their quality when going forward.
Both Keitumetse Dithebe and Refilwe Tholakele scored superb long-range efforts. Lesego Radiakanyo’s goal capped off one of the best team goals of the tournament so far when Tholakele crossed with the outside of her boot following a flowing counterattack for Radiakanyo to tap in.
They certainly left space behind which Burundi exploited, but not with the efficiency that South Africa and Nigeria will provide. For the neutral though, it was a great spectacle.
Burundi struggle on the big stage
Burundi have never played a team outside of East Africa in their six-year history. That lack of experience was on show against a Botswana side that regularly play teams like South Africa and Zambia. They came into the tournament as the youngest and smallest team and they were often bullied by their stronger opponents.
There is clearly still a big gap that needs to be bridged from not only Burundi, but the East African region to the rest of Africa. But scoring their first-ever goals should make coach Gustave Niyonkuru proud of his charges.
The brightest light in the Swallows team was without a doubt Asha Djafari. The captain was playing on the left wing and was a constant menace. She has an incredible turn of pace, particularly over five yards, and was a threat every time she was on the ball.
She single-handedly created the first goal. Turning her marker from a throw-in before ghosting past two defenders and curling an effort that was pushed into the path of Sandrine Niyonkuru who tapped in.
Group C is the group of contrasts, with the two favourites and two debutants. And it will be an uphill task for both the smaller sides as they now face the giants of African football.
Botswana are in a strong position. With three points and a plus two-goal difference, they already are in a decent position to grab one of the two third place spots in the quarter-finals. They also have previous experience in playing South Africa. This includes a famous victory on penalties against Banyana Banyana in Olympic qualification.
If they can replicate that feat and draw against Nigeria or South Africa they will guarantee qualification to the next round. But that will be a stiff test. They next face a Nigeria side licking their wounds from their defeat. And then follow it up against a South Africa side at the peak of their powers.
As for Burundi, they will be frustrated by not getting points in the one game that they really could take points from. They do have quality going forward with Djafari, Niyonkuru, and Falone Nihimana, but their lack of physicality and fitness was on show against Botswana.
Against top opposition who are all full professionals, they will struggle. If there are any fixtures that potentially will see huge score lines, it will be in their next two fixtures.
But being a side that is so ridiculously young (they have a 14year-old, 15-year-old and four 16-year-olds), they will no doubt be much stronger for the experience of playing such prestigious opposition.
Burundi – Irakoze (gk), C. Irankunda, D. Irankunda, F. Nahimana, Djafari (c), N Nahimana, Bukuru, Nshimirimana, Nduwayo
Botswana – Bosija (gk), Mochawe, Montsho, Selebatso, Tholakele, Thanda, Radiakanyo, Otlhagile (c), Dithebe, Mogotsi, Mahlasela
Substitutes: Gaofetoge, Sechane, Ramafifi, Johannes, Galekhutle