Following a close set of quarter-final matches that had World Cup qualification riding on it, the semi-finals of the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations are set to show case Africa’s best talent.
Two new faces in Morocco and Zambia join South Africa and Nigeria, who both see anything other than a WAFCON title as failure.
Nigeria finding form ahead of headline clash with Morocco
To say Nigeria have had a tempestuous tournament would be an understatement. The Super Falcons came into the competition as serial favourites, before losing to a South Africa side that has their number.
The loss was compounded by coach Randy Waldrum’s inadvisable comments where he accused the Nigerian media of being “negative”.
However, his side is now getting back on track following his recent apology.
Having been afforded an easy rehabilitation into the competition with matches against debutants Botswana and Burundi, the Super Falcons’ first major challenge came in the shape of a quarter-final clash with old rivals Cameroon.
But Nigeria showed their dominance against the Indomitable Lionesses who have disappointed this tournament.
The Super Falcons stifled the electric front three of Cameroon, choked out the midfield, and continually pressed the backline, forcing them to go long every time.
Despite the injury to superstar Asisat Oshoala, Nigeria are coping superbly with players stepping up. None have done so as much as Rasheedat Ajibade. The midfielder came into the tournament with a lot of hype around her and understandably so.
She has scored three goals for the Super Falcons, taking her joint top of the scoring charts at the tournament alongside Morocco’s Ghizlane Chebbak, and was at her rampaging best yesterday.
Ajibade personifies the Nigerian brand of football. She is powerful, direct and a supremely gifted individual capable of taking a game by the scruff of the neck in a way that perhaps no one else at the tournament can.
Nigeria now face their toughest task yet, a match against hosts Morocco in front of 45,000 home fans roaring their team on.
Morocco have been the most solid team of the tournament so far. They have only conceded two goals, both from direct free-kicks. They give little, and have generally created little in the way of open-play chances.
But the Atlas Lionesses posses the greatest threat of any team from set-pieces through Chebbak and Fatima Tagnaout’s pinpoint accuracy from the dead ball. In their 2-1 victory over Botswana it was once again free kicks that made the difference. Goals from Sanaa Mssoudy and Yasmin Mrabet, both from Tagnaout free kicks, were enough to see off a stubborn Botswana side.
It will be thrilling encounter on Monday as both sides will wrestle for control. Nigeria have had the experience of playing South Africa and Cameroon already in the tournament and have beat home sides before in front of a partisan crowd, think back to the 2016 against Cameroon.
But Morocco have a defensive organisation that no other team in the competition have and Nigeria have lacked the creative spark they need to break down a tight defence. They do not posses a player like Chebbak or Tagnaout who can pick that killer pass.
Zambia and South Africa set up COSAFA derby
Zambia have been the surprise package of the tournament. Having lost captain and star Barbra Banda to Difference in Sexual Development (DSD) rules, they then lost their final pre-tournament friendly 5-0 to Uganda (who were the first team in the tournament to be knocked out).
But since then they have gone from strength to strength. They drew with Cameroon, before beating Tunisia and thumping Togo. Their seven points earned them a quarter-final match against a similarly impressive Senegal.
The sides played out a thrilling 1-1 draw. Zambia keeper Hazel Nali becoming her country’s hero, as she saved a penalty before scoring the winning spot kick.
The team posses a thrilling forward line that thrives on the break. Ochumba Lubandji is a great foil for star Grace Chanda. Chanda, a rapid and technically gifted second striker, plays off her target strike partner. The number ten has the freedom of the park to drift into pockets of space, as well as make bursting runs from deep.
Against a South Africa side that showed their vulnerabilities to a physical frontline against Tunisia, Chanda will be licking her lips at the chance to run at the Banyana Banyana back line.
But that is only if she is afforded the chance. More than any side, South Africa have the tools to nullify their opposition with an effective press. They showed this against Nigeria in their first match of the tournament.
Since then, the 2018 finalists have been equally impressive and disappointing. Without star Thembi Kgatlana, Desiree Ellis’ side continue to dominate possession, create chances, and squander those chances.
Against Tunisia they scored early, and by the hour mark should have been three or four goals up. But their missed chances nearly cost them. The side began panicking in the final half hour and almost let a Tunisia side who on paper, miles off the South Africans, back into the match.
They will not be afforded the same luxury of missing chance after chance against their neighbours Zambia. And if this competition has shown anything, it is the competitiveness of every match. Like the quarter-finals, the semi-finals will be won or lost on the narrowest of margins.