Cameroon may have seen their hopes of a first-ever Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (WAFCON) title scuppered by their old foes Nigeria. But they kept the World Cup dream alive when they beat Botswana 1-0 in the WAFCON repechage match. The victory takes them to an inter-confederation playoff set for February.
Disappointing Cameroon end on a high
From the first match of the 2022 WAFCON, Cameroon have been the most underperforming team in the competition. They opened up their account with a 0-0 draw against a Zambia side reeling from the loss of their captain Barbra Banda and a 5-0 loss to Uganda in June.
Cameroon then followed the Zambia draw with a disappointing draw against debutants Togo. The Sparrowhawks even took the lead before Cameroon hit back through Estelle Johnson. Togo were the only debutants to take a point from any of the teams that made it out of the group stage.
In need of a win, Cameroon upped their game and beat Tunisia 2-0. They looked like they were finally coming into the tournament. But because of their poor start, a second place group finish gave them a quarter-final date with WAFCON giants Nigeria.
In what was a cagey encounter, the West Africans came out on top—a sole Rasheedat Ajibade goal proving the difference. But in truth, Cameroon were very poor, and Nigeria could have won by more.
The Super Falcons easily exposed the tactical deficiencies of the Indomitable Lionesses. Despite possessing a squad of talented players plying their trade across the world, Cameroon looked like a side lacking cohesion. Time and time again, they were reduced to thumping the ball long rather than playing with the football at their feet.
It is a real shame because Cameroon came into the tournament with one of the most dangerous attacking trios in the competition, led by icon Ajara Njoya. But Njoya and her strike partners, Michaela Abam and Gabriella Onguene, were left to feed on scraps as their midfield rarely could get the ball into their feet.
Repechage provides a glimmer of hope
Because the WAFCON doubles as World Cup qualification, the semi-final spots also mean World Cup qualifiers. But there are two other spots for African sides to join eight other nations from around the world to compete for the final three spots at next year’s showpiece.
Cameroon had one last chance to keep their World Cup hopes alive if they could beat fellow losing quarter-finalists Botswana. The Lionesses showed much improvement in that match. They dominated most of the game and took the lead on the stroke of halftime when Njoya’s inch-perfect strike from 25 yards beat the keeper.
Despite creating a host of chances in the second half, the Cameroonians toiled to kill the game off and nearly let their unfancied opposition back into the game. The Mares came closest when a corner tipped onto the crossbar. But the ball bounced twice before scrambling away.
Ultimately, the victory was enough to book a ticket to the intercontinental playoffs set to take place this February in New Zealand. Cameroon join Senegal, who beat Tunisia earlier in the day on penalties, as WAFCON’s two representatives at the playoffs.
Cameroon are likely to come into the qualifying tournament as a seeded side, thanks to their world ranking. It means they will play an unseeded team before playing the winner of another semi-final, assuming they win.
So far, Chinese Taipei, Thailand, Haiti and Panama have qualified for the tournament. Countries from CONMEBOL, OFC and UEFA are still to join the qualifiers.
It would represent a real achievement for the Indomitable Lionesses to prevail and take one of the playoff’s three spots to come back to a competition in which they have played their best football. Despite only qualifying for the World Cup on the previous two occasions, Cameroon prevailed against the odds and made it out of their group in both editions.
But if they want to qualify for the 2023 World Cup, let alone impress in it, the Indomitable Lionesses will have to improve quickly.