Cape Town — The lure of securing an automatic qualifying berth at next year's FIFA Women's World Cup may be a far bigger proposition than attaining glory at the Women's Africa Cup of Nations (Wafcon) that is currently in progress in Rabat, Morocco.
Nigeria's Super Falcons have reigned supreme in the continental competition and have won the title 11 times in 13 attempts. On the two occasions Nigeria failed to reach the final, they bowed out in the semi-final rounds.
South Africa's Banyana Banyana have never won the title but have reached the final five times without success in the championship round. Thrice they were defeated by Nigerians, and in the remaining two finals, they lost to Equatorial Guinea, which will not be campaigning in Morocco this time.
Against this background, South Africa may be purely focused on bagging a World Cup place when they run out against Nigeria in Monday night's Group C opening clash at the 12 000-seater Stade Moulay Hassan, Rabat (start 7pm SA time).
The other two Group C teams, Burundi and Botswana, will play later Monday evening. The two teams will be competing at the WAFCON for the first time.
Nigeria, with its world ranking of 39, is Africa's top-ranked nation. South Africa, is Africa's third-best with a much lower world ranking of 58. Cameroon's Indomitable Lionesses is Africa's No 2 and is sandwiched between Nigeria and South Africa at 57 on the FIFA World Rankings.
One aspect that allowed South Africa to step up their standards on the continent is that more and more local players have landed contracts to play professionally abroad and this has bolstered the confidence in the ranks.
This was suitably demonstrated when South Africa took Nigeria to the cleaners last September when they defeated hosts Nigeria 4-2 in the maiden edition of the Aisha Buhari Invitational Women’s Tournament at the Mobolaji Johnson Arena, Lagos State. It was the first time African opponents scored four goals against Nigeria.
It was only the third time South Africa defeated Nigeria in 13 games between the two countries. Nigeria have a 7-3 win ratio in the head-to-head count, after three matches were drawn.
Nigeria will field a formidable outfit which will be fully focused on annexing the title for the 12th time. They could be forgiven for thinking the World Cup qualification will come automatically because they have never finished outside the four in the history of the event. The four teams in the semi-finals will qualify automatically for the World Cup.
At the forefront of Nigeria's potent line-up is superstar Asisat Oshoala, who plays as a striker for Primera División club FC Barcelona. She is a four-time African Women’s Footballer of the Year and captain of the Super Falcons.
She will be chasing a fourth WAFCON winner’s medal and given her prolific scoring form, will be the pre-tournament favourite for the Golden Boot award.
Several other players in Nigeria's squad p,y their trade abroad and this should give them a formidable advantage.
The best South Africa can offer will be the Madrid-based striker Thembi Kgatlana who plays for Spanish Primera División club Atlético Madrid. She won the Golden Boot award at the 2018 showpiece with five goals and will be one of the stars to watch at this year's tournament.
South Africa have been touted as an emerging power in African women's football after they lost the 2018 final to Nigeria via penalties.
The match will be screened live on SABC and SuperSport on Monday evening.