Debutants Burundi and Botswana played out a thrilling match in the final game of matchday one at the women’s Africa Cup of Nations. But it was Botswana who came away with all three points as the Mares’ forward line showed their class.
Story of the match
Following the tense first match between the 2018 finalists, this was a much more open affair. Both teams playing with aggression and a quick tempo.
Burundi were happy to cede possession to their opposition, sitting deep and counter-attacking pace. Captain Asha Djafari, in particular was a real threat with her pace and trickery.
But it was Botswana who were carving out the better chances. Keitumetse Dithebe curled a shot wide, before Nondi Mahlasela saw her header go narrowly wide from a corner.
Burundi while breaking quickly, were unable to carve out any clear cut chances. Djafari coming closest with a an angled drive from distance that drew a smart save from Maitumelo Bosija.
On the stroke of half time, it was the Mares who drew first blood, and it was Dithebe again with a ranged effort. The left winger played an excellent give and go wit Mahlasela before stroking the ball into the top corner.
It didn’t take long for Botswana to double their lead. Just two minutes into the second half a superb counter attack finished with Refilwe Tholakele crossing with the outside of her right foot to the oncoming Lesego Radiakanyo.
Just five minutes later Burundi had their reply. Once again it was Djafari who was the architect. She turned her marker from a throw-in, beat another two players before seeing her saved shot fall into the path of the oncoming Sandrine Niyonkuru who tapped home.
It was Burundi’s turn to play with confidence. Anociate Nshimrimana seeing her strike from the edge of the box go over the crossbar. Minutes later, her freekick from distance passed through.
Botswana just as quickly scored, re-establishing their two goal cushion. Tholakele turning from provider to goal scorer as she cut inside her marker and rifled home into the far top corner.
Things then went from bad to worse for the Swallows. A blocked clearance fell to the feet of Mahlasela who coolly played Tholakele one-on-on, who finished with aplomb.
With both sides tiring in the second half, the match continued in its front to back fashion, with chances at both ends. Burundi finally got a second goal when a header from a corner fell to Niyonkuru who struck a spectacular volley that crashed in off the underside of the crossbar.
Botswana are a joy to watch. They attack with a mobile front four that play some very nice football. But this extremely zealous brand of football leaves plenty of space. Particularly, in the second half, there was at times, 30 metre gaps between their midfield and defence that other teams will exploit.
But there is little more one can ask for from a debut match at a major international tournament. Three points and importantly three positive goal difference leaves them as well prepared to qualify from the group as they could hope to be considering they still have to face Nigeria and Ghana.
Stand out player
Refilwe Tholakele came into the tournament as one of Botswana’s brightest prospects, and she lived up to expectations. Playing as part of Botswana’s fluid front four she was able to find space to create and take shots of her own.
The Township Rollers forward was at the heart of everything good going forward in this Mares team. Even as the game ebbed towards the finish and her legs were going she still had the intelligence to find the ball in dangerous areas.
Burundi – Irakoze (gk), C. Irankunda, D. Irankunda, F. Nahimana, Djafari (c), N Nahimana, Bukuru, Nshimirimana, Nduwayo
Botswana – Bosija (gk), Mochawe, Montsho, Selebatso, Tholakele, Thanda, Radiakanyo, Otlhagile (c), Dithebe, Mogotsi, Mahlasela