Crested Cranes in evenly poised Wafcon group

Positive vibes. Goalkeeper Vanessa Edith Karungi. PHOTO/COURTESY-FUFA

What you need to know:

  • Uganda’s group opponents are definitely powerhouses in African football but that is in the men’s game.

As far as continental women’s football history goes, Uganda could not have been drawn in a better group for the Africa Cup of Nations (Wafcon) that starts tonight in Rabat, Morocco. Uganda is drawn with the hosts and West African sides Senegal and Burkina Faso.

The Cecafa region champions avoided 11-time record winners and favourites Nigeria, who are drawn in Group C with record runners-up South Africa as well as debutants Botswana and Burundi.

The only other side to ever win the Wafcon are Equatorial Guinea, who triumphed when they hosted in 2008 and 2012. But they are not at this 15th edition. 

Group C has World Cup representatives Cameroon and their Olympic counterparts Zambia. It also has Tunisia and Togo.

Morocco flying

Morocco qualified as hosts to make their third appearance after 1998 and 2000, both of which they finished in the group stage.

But they have involved themselves in a couple of tournaments and friendlies over the last one year to ready their squad for this home assignment. They have lost just once, 1-0 to Spain, in over six games played over that period and are currentky ranked 77th in the world and eighth in Africa.

Morocco have in the past struggled to qualify for Wafcon but started a four-year project in 2020 that included hosting the inaugural Caf Women’s Champions League last year and one they hope can include lifting the trophy at home later this month.

The Atlas Lionesses, who are captained by Ghizlane Chebbak and will rely heavily on the experience of 32-year-old midfielder Salma Amani – who has spent 18 years in Europe – also went on to hire Frenchman Reynald Pedros for the cause. 

Senegal back

Senegal are the other nation that heavily relies on exporting its talent to France. The 89th-ranked team in the world reaped rewards with a return to the continental stage for a third time after 10 years away and 31 years after their first attempt in 1991.

The Lionesses of Teranga are coached by local man Mame Moussa Cisse in his second stint after an unsuccessful first in 2016.

He built his squad around Marseille forward Mame Diop, Bourges striker Nguenar Ndiaye and playmaker Awa Diakhate plus captain Safietou Sagna.

These were instrumental in helping Senegal see off Liberia 8-1 on aggregate in the first round of qualifiers but even more importantly 2018 semifinalists Mali, with whom they drew 1-1 on aggregate but eliminated 3-2 in a penalty shootout to earn a ticket to Morocco.

They have tried to put in the practice minutes with four friendlies in June; losing 1-0 and drawing 2-2 with Cameroon, beating Guinea Bissau 3-0 before drawing 0-0 with Tunisia in the week.

Fighting Burkinabe

There is always little information flowing into each country about their opponents. That is probably why playing Guinea Bissau, a team that Burkina Faso eliminated 7-0 on aggregate in the final qualification round, made sense for Senegal.

Before that, Burkina eliminated Benin 5-2 in the first qualification round under the guidance of coach Adama Dembele.

Dembele left his position but the team still worked with new coach Pascal Sawadogo to qualify and are at world position 138, the second highest ranked of the four Wafcon debutants ahead of Botswana (152), Burundi (169) and behind Togo (118).
They are also relatively new to the game having started participating in qualifiers in 2014.

However, their huge success in qualifying for Wafcon was dampened last week by squabbles over allowances after the players reportedly rejected a Shs3.6m each in bonuses for their success.

They, apparently, later settled for over Shs6m but the fights with their federation also seem to have dug into their preparations as they camped at home and are not known to have held any build up matches.

The team relies on the goals of 21-year-old Belarus-based forward Juliet Nana, who scored 22 goals in 25 league matches for Neman Grodno.

Morocco-based Limata Nikiema will also be key in providing some information about the hosts ahead of today’s tournament opener in Rabat.

Go for it

Uganda’s group opponents are definitely powerhouses in African football but that is in the men’s game.

Nana is no Jonathan Pitroipa while Salma Amani is no Hakim Ziyech. Ndiaye is heavily relied upon but she is not Sadio Mane.

All players in the group are forging their own path and that is what the Crested Cranes have to bear in mind.

“We’ve also been told that is a path to the World Cup among other things and for us it is an opportunity to showcase our football to the rest of the continent. We’re going to go for it,” midfielder Tracy Jones Akiror told SCORE before the team left for Morocco.

Women Africa Cup 2022

Today | Live on Dstv  227
Morocco    vs.    Burkina Faso
Morocco    vs.    Burkina Faso
Cameroon     vs.     Zambia, 
Tunisia     vs.     Togo

Nigeria’s record: 

1991, 1995, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2010, 2014, 2016, 2018

2.Equatorial Guinea 2008, 2012