The Women’s Africa Cup of Nations final grabs all the attention this weekend when host nation, Morocco face off against five-time runners-up, South Africa.
The continental cup final is between two African football authorities that have never won the trophy before.
The Lionesses of Atlas have shown the fight as fans back their ladies in full voice, while Banyana Banyana have displayed class and excellence throughout. Who will be crowned champions of Africa?
South Africa 22/10
Speaking ahead of the win over Nigeria, head coach Reynald Pedros mentioned the squad need to stand up to the biggest nation in women’s football on the African continent, and that they did.
Morocco stunned the world when they defeated Nigeria 5-4 on penalties to book a place in the final. The Atlas Lionesses beat the Super Falcons following a 1-1 draw after extra-time in Rabat. This after Morocco made it four wins out of four when defeating Burkina Faso (1-0), Uganda (3-1) and Senegal 1-0 in the group stages, as well as a convincing 2-1 victory over Botswana in the quarter-finals.
The definite quality of the host nation is their physical presence and determination despite the lack of ability in unlocking a defence. Morocco struggled to break through the gritty Nigerian backline, as well as Senegal, Burkina Faso and Botswana.
Exhibit A of leading from the front is captain Ghizlane CHebbak. The 31-year-old midfielder has scored three of Morocco’s eight goals in the surge to the final. She has also been awarded the Woman-of-the-Match accolade on three occasions for her calm authority and intelligent distribution of the ball.
The Moroccan women have gone where no North African women’s side have gone before. They finally broke the jinx and have become the first-team from North Africa to qualify for the FIFA Women’s World Cup when after their quarter-final victory.
The appetite for victory, coupled with the anticipation of lifting a trophy on home soil, will all culminate into one ferocious mindset.
The three-time women’s Coach of the Year, Desiree Ellis, commented ahead of their clash with Morocco: “We owe ourselves another chance after coming so close in 2018,”
“And it’s not just about the current group of players, it’s for players and coaches who were there in 2018 who came close and obviously, it’s for the people back home.”
Banyana Banyana opened their campaign with a statement victory against their biggest rivals Nigeria with a 2-1 scoreline.
The South African ladies passed their toughest test in Group C and they were able to exploit the flat feet of Burundi’s defence on several occasions, but the decisiveness in the final third was jaded. At the end of the day, the result was 3-1 in favour of South Africa, with three points to their name, alongside quarter-final qualification.
The matchup against Botswana saw coach Desiree put a much-needed change of personal on the frontline, but Thembi Kgatlana, however, picked up an injury in their 1-0 victory which would sideline the forward for the remainder of the tournament.
Without star striker Thembi’s lightning pace, Ellis had to tweak their attack from finding space behind the defensive lines to isolating one-on-ones in a high press transition.
Jermaine Seoposenwe stepped up to the plate to dismiss Tunisia 1-0, and although deserving to progress over COSAFA counterparts Zambia, a rather ambiguous VAR penalty call saw Linda Motlhalo net a 90-minute stoppage-time penalty.
After peaking in the opening fixture against Nigeria, the Banyana players seemingly took a dip in mindset.
However, the quality got them across the line as they got the ball rolling again.
Prediction: South Africa Win to Nil
Both Morocco and South Africa were the only nations to finish on maximum points in the group stages. South Africa scored one more than their opponents, but also conceded one more.
Goalkeeper Andile Dlamini, who has arguably the best footwork in the tournament, will enable South Africa to build up from the back and draw in Morocco to enable one-on-one encounters and test the oppositions quality in personnel.
Should the encounter go to penalties (though I doubt it will) don’t be surprised if Regirl Ngobeni or Kaylin Swart join the fray being preferred spot kick stoppers, as per informed insight. If Banyana Banyana are able to keep their eyes pealed in and among those green lasers come Saturday, they will lift the cup.