Botswana face Cameroon in a do-or-die match in the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations repechage match to determine who will go to the World Cup play offs in February. Having both lost in their respective quarter-finals, tonight’s match represents a last chance for either side to make it to Australia and New Zealand.
The winner of the match will qualify, alongside the winner between Tunisia and Senegal for the intercontinental World Cup playoff which pits 10 nations from around the world against each other for the final three spots at football’s greatest competition.
The Indomitable Lionesses came into the competition as the second highest seeded side behind Nigeria. They were the top seed in their group and would have been expecting a semi-final berth at least. But instead they come away from the tournament full of disappointment.
The Cameroonians opened their account with a goalless draw with Zambia. Considering the terrible preparation that the Copper Queens had, losing captain and star player Barbra Banda in the build up and a 5-0 loss to Uganda, the result was seen as a real let down.
But the Central Africans followed it up with a 1-1 draw against debutants Togo, the biggest upset that the tournament has seen so far. The Sparrowhawks took the lead and Cameroon had to rely on an Estelle Johnson header to get them back in the game.
Needing to win, Gabriel Zabo’s side got the job done against Tunisia, winning 2-0 and sealing second spot in the group behind Zambia. But their second place finish landed them a quarter-final match up against old rivals Nigeria.
Both Cameroon and Nigeria had disappointed this year, but it was the Nigerians who took control of the game. Cameroon could not get out of their own half, and were reduced to simply launching long balls for their forward line to chase.
Nigeria were not at their fluent best, but they were on top in a way that they never really were against South Africa in their opening game. Rasheedat Ajibade gave the lead in the second half with a superb header that kissed the post on its way in. And that was that. Cameroon mounted a very tame fight back, but in truth, never looked like forcing their way back into the match.
Botswana put through the crucible
The Mares came into the tournament as one of four debutants, having knocked out neighbours Zimbabwe in qualifying. They were drawn in the same group as fellow first-timers Burundi and won the key match 4-2.
Since then, the Mares have had the hardest run of fixtures perhaps any team has ever had in the competition’s history. They played nine time champions Nigeria, losing 2-0, before playing group toppers and 2018 finalists South Africa. They only narrowly lost the derby, a late Nthabiseng Majiya goal enough to get the three points.
The only debutants at the competition to get a win and get out of their group, Botswana were drawn against hosts Morocco in the last eight. The Atlas Lionesses took a third minute lead and looked like they would run away with it, but Botswana fought back. Minutes later a Keitumetse Dithebe brought the underdogs level.
The Botswanans fought hard, but eventual fell to a second half Yasmin Mrabet header as Morocco went through to their first ever semi-final. Despite playing three of the semi-finalists and now the second ranked side at the competition, Botswana can walk away from the competition with their heads held high. Only Nigeria beat them by more than a single goal margin and Botswana will take that confidence into tonight’s match.
What they said
Cameroon head coach Garbiel Zabo:
“Both teams are defeated and for the opponent, they have the same will to qualify. However, a better performance is what will be useful and of course everyone has the will to qualify and we will do our best to achieve that.
“I believe that Botswana and us are equal, however, we will play at our best and despite our defeat. We need to qualify for the World Cup and we will keep this hope. We will win this match against our opponent.”
Botswana head coach Gaoletlhoo Nkutlwisang:
“I think generally looking at what we have displayed during the tournament. Also looking at the game that we played when the stadium was fully packed motivated us. Also looking at the way Cameroon played, give motivation to my players. Maybe in terms of the strengths and weaknesses of Cameroon, I think we’ll do much better.
“We won our one game which was part of our plan. Looking at the teams that we played, were top teams. Teams with heavy international players. We are Botswana, it’s our first time coming to this tournament. I think we have learned from those games that we have played.”