by TINTSWALO BALOYI
JOHANNESBURG, (CAJ News) – THE first African side to qualify for the knockout stage of the ongoing Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA) Women’s World Cup has its tails up.
Conversely, the first team from the continent to be knocked out of the tournament Down Under leaves with heads held high.
Nigeria are through to the next round and have enhanced ambitions to be the first team from the continent to win the tourney.
Despite suffering the ignominy of being the first African side ousted, Zambia exits in historic fashion.
The two other African sides remaining in Australia and New Zealand have their prospects hanging by a thread.
For Morocco, regardless whether they are knocked out or proceed, history has been made with their first ever win at this global tournament, on their debut.
For beleaguered South Africa, an inaugural win at this tourney remains elusive after snatching a defeat and a draw from victory in their two previous encounters.
Nigeria’s Super Falcons do not have such strain, as the sole side from Africa to book a berth in the Round of 16.
A goalless draw, their second of the tournament, against Ireland in Brisbane on Monday was enough wings to propel them to the next round, on five points.
Australia (6 points) also qualify from Group B.
A draw against the West Africans was historic for the Republic of Ireland, who picked their first ever point at the Women’s World Cup.
Zambia not only matched that feat but bettered it, by carting away all three points home to Southern Africa after a historic night for the Copper Queens at Waikato Stadium on Monday.
While their 3-1 Group C win over Costa Rica was their first, captain Barbra Banda’s converted penalty kick was the 1 000th goal scored in the history of the Women’s World Cup.
She was Player of the Match, deservedly.
Zambia finished third, on three points, behind Japan and Spain.
Morocco and South Africa remain at the tournament, albeit with a mountain to climb.
They are involved in must-win encounters.
On a positive note, Morocco has already secured itself a first win and will play under minimal pressure against the already-qualified Colombia at the Perth Rectangular on Thursday.
The maximum points were secured on Sunday against South Korea.
In Group H, the equal number of points (three) with second-placed Germany would suggest the Atlas Lionesses are neck-in-neck with their more illustrious European counterparts.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Two-time global champions Germany are placed higher because of a goal difference of five (5), far superior than Morocco’s -5.
Then there is South Africa!
This perhaps is the country battling under the most severe resources curse in the world. With all its talent, facilities and financial muscle, it ought to be high up there with the title contenders, at all competitions.
But reeling from self-inflicted woes ahead of this tournament, this is the side suddenly inspiring the least hope and inducing the most yawns of the African contingent at this tournament.
They are the African reigning champions.
Third-placed in Group G on one point, they must beat Italy (second on three points) on Wednesday at the Wellington Regional.
The Banyana Banyana (The Girls) have never secured maximum points at this tournament that they are participating in for the second time.
On the pitch, they cannot protect leads, having been in front against Sweden (lost 2-1) and Argentina (drew 2-2 from 2-0 up), but off it, they are reportedly suffering political turmoil.
Argentina are also in contention, in the event Banyana and the Italians draw and they beat already-qualified Sweden.
– CAJ News