When the lineup of the twelve teams that will compete at the 2022 African Women’s Cup of Nations (AWCoN) in Morocco is complete, one of Nigeria or Ghana will not be present at the continental showpiece.
This is because current African champions, Nigeria, have been drawn to face fellow West Africans and continental powerhouses, Ghana in the first round of the qualification series.
Additionally, this means that the loser of the tie over two legs will not make an appearance at the next FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand in 2023, since the AWCON also doubles as the qualifiers for the mundial.
By all standards, Nigeria and Ghana are two of the most prominent women’s national teams in Africa. How CAF arrived at pitting two of the biggest teams on the continent against each other is very bemusing.
Respected sports journalist, Colin Udoh described the draw as self-sabotage, accusing the continental body of lacking interest in the women’s game.
In a series of tweets, Udoh wrote: ‘Everyone involved in this at CAF should be ashamed of themselves. To pit two of the historically and current strongest in Africa against each other in the first round of qualifying does a huge and disgraceful disservice to the African women’s game’.
‘The AWCON needs eyeballs. Games like those involving the likes of Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon; South Africa playing against each other is what draws those eyeballs. But no, self-sabotage must be an intrinsic part of the CAF DNA’, he continued.
South Africa superstar, Thembi Kgatlana also expressed her disappointment with the draw, tweeting: “The draw was coming alright until they announced that Ghana will play Nigeria”.
The Super Falcons have not only won multiple African titles; they also belong to an exclusive group of countries that have participated at every edition of the FIFA Women’s World Cup. Ghana on the other hand, are three-time AWCON finalists, with three World Cup appearances under their belt.
While qualifying for the African Women Cup of Nations is not any nation’s birth right, drawing these giants of the sport against each other in the first round of a knock-out qualification series is ill-conceived and counterproductive. The absence of either of these teams does not bode well for a tournament that is still struggling to become a marketable brand.
With this development, CAF has denied itself the chance to have the crème de la crème of women’s football feature at the AWCON, and hence, lowered the appeal and marketability of the tournament.
Despite widespread condemnation, the deed has been done, and the tie must go on.
The two-legged tie was initially scheduled for June, but the matches have now been shifted to the FIFA window of 18-26 October due to poor stadium conditions and COVID-19 restrictions around the continent.
The second round of the qualifiers are now expected to be staged between 14th and 23rd February 2022.
Nigeria will hope to get past Ghana in the first round, and not fall victim to CAF’s incompetence.
The Super Falcons have had the upper-hand over Ghana in this rivalry, and will once again go into this qualifier as the bookies’ favourites to move on to the next round. The Nigerian women’s team has proven to be very reliable on the continent over the years, and many punters will definitely be backing the Falcons on betting sites in Nigeria.
For all intent and purposes, the African Women Cup of Nations should be parading the top teams on the continent and not also-rans that get to book their place in the finals through the ‘luck’ of the draw.
There is no doubt that CAF completely missed the mark here, and the onus is now on the body under the leadership of Patrice Motsepe to correct the anomaly going forward.