Reigning African champions Nigeria qualified for a ninth consecutive Women’s World Cup by beating Cameroon 1-0 in the quarter-finals of the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (Wafcon) in Casablanca.
Rasheedat Ajibade’s 57th-minute header saw Nigeria meet hosts Morocco in Monday’s late semi-final and continue their Wafcon winning streak against Cameroon.
In Thursday’s late game, South Africa sealed their return to the Women’s World Cup after a narrow 1-0 win over Tunisia in Morocco’s capital Rabat.
Jermaine Seopesenwe finished expertly after 14 minutes but South Africa squandered good chances to limp over the line after VAR checked for a possible Tunisian penalty in stoppage time.
Rwandan referee Salima Mukansanga, who will referee the men’s World Cup this year and made history earlier this year by becoming the first woman to referee a men’s Nations Cup game, pointed a kick from goal, which VAR only accepted after a nervous delay.
By then South Africa – who will face Zambia in Monday’s first semi-final – should have been out of sight with Noxolo Cesane the biggest culprit when he burst into flames after a fine run by Linda Motlhalo just before the hour.
Banyana Banyana missed Thembi Kgatlana, the 2018 Wafcon top scorer ruled out from the tournament on Monday with injury, while Nigeria also qualified with their star player, Asisat Oshoala, ready to no longer play a role.
making their debut, Morocco and Zambia will join Banyana Banyana, whose tournament was held in 2019, and the Super Falcons in next year’s 32-team finals in Australia and New Zealand.
Two other African teams could join them there, but will have to navigate a ten-team intercontinental play-off in New Zealand next February when the final three qualifiers are decided.
Sunday’s decisive repechage matches will pit Senegal against Tunisia in Casablanca and Botswana against Cameroon in Rabat.
The Super Falcons maintain their lead
Nigeria and Cameroon have met in each of the last nine tournaments, with the Super Falcons winning three finals and four semi-finals while the Indomitable Lionesses’ only win was in a third play-off in 2012.
Cameroon have failed to score against the nine-time champions at Wafcon since, including in their semi-final defeat last time out in 2018, and they have rarely threatened Nigeria goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie in a game of few openings. sharp.
Former Cameroonian male legends such as Samuel Eto’o, who now leads the country’s federation, and Geremi Njitap were in attendance at a Mohammed V stadium whose low attendance was offset by lively support.
After the break, Ifeoma Onumonu’s cross was headed off by Atletico Madrid’s Ajebade, who tops the scoring charts with three, forcing the Indomitable Lionesses to find a rare Wafcon goal against Nigeria to stay in contention .
Still, Cameroon key players Njoya Ajara Njout and skipper Gabrielle Onguene failed to trouble the Nigerian defense and coach Gabriel Zabo hopes they can do more when the team enter a repechage match on Sunday.
The clash against Botswana now represents the last chance for Cameroon, who made their Women’s World Cup debut in 2019, to reach next year’s finals in Australia and New Zealand.
Despite their African record of eight previous trips to the World Cup, Nigeria have only gone beyond the group stage twice – first, reaching the quarter-finals in 1999, then in 2019, after the tournament ended. be extended to 24 teams four years earlier.
Nigerian captain Onome Ebi, 39, made the finals for the first time in 2003 and hasn’t missed one since, becoming the first African to play in five Women’s World Cups.
USA coach Randy Waldrum, meanwhile, tried to improve Nigeria’s level by fielding a few high-profile friendlies, including two against sixth-placed Canada ahead of the tournament, ending in a loss and a draw. for his team.
He will need his team to overcome a crucial clash in Rabat against an in-form host country to have a chance of arriving at the World Cup as African champions again.