Reigning African champions Nigeria qualified for a ninth Women’s World Cup in a row when 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 ensured Nigeria will meet hosts Morocco in Monday’s late semi-final and that their Wafcon winning streak against Cameroon continues.
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 the Moroccan capital Rabat.
Jermaine Seopesenwe finished in expert fashion after 14 minutes but South Africa wasted good chances only to limp over the line after VAR checked a possible Tunisia penalty in stoppage time.
Rwandan referee Salima Mukansanga, who will referee at the men’s World Cup this year and made history earlier this year when becoming the first woman to referee a men’s Nations Cup match, pointed for a goal-kick, which VAR agreed with only after a nervy delay.
By then, South Africa – who will play Zambia in Monday’s first semi-final – should have been out of sight with Noxolo Cesane the biggest culprit when blazing over after a fine Linda Motlhalo run just before the hour.
Banyana Banyana missed Thembi Kgatlana, the 2018 Wafcon top scorer ruled out of the tournament on Monday with injury, while Nigeria also made it through with their star player, Asisat Oshoala, set to play no further part.
Making their debuts, Morocco and Zambia will join Banyana Banyana, whose tournament bow came in 2019, and the Super Falcons in next year’s 32-team finals in Australia and New Zealand.
Two more African sides could join them there, but will need to navigate a ten-team intercontinental play-off in New Zealand next February when the final three qualifiers will be decided.
Sunday’s crunch repechage ties pit Senegal against Tunisia, in Casablanca, and Botswana against Cameroon, in Rabat.
Super Falcons maintain edge
Nigeria and Cameroon have met at each of the past nine tournaments, with the Super Falcons winning three finals and four semis while the Indomitable Lionesses’ sole win was in a third-play 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 seldom threatened Nigeria goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie in a match of few clear-cut openings.
Former Cameroon male legends such as Samuel Eto’o, who now heads up the country’s federation, and Geremi Njitap were in attendance in a Stade Mohammed V whose sparse attendance was atoned for by some lively support.
After the break, Ifeoma Onumonu’s cross was headed home by Atletico Madrid’s Ajebade, who moves joint top of the scoring charts with three, forcing the Indomitable Lionesses to find a rare Wafcon goal against Nigeria to stay in contention.
Yet Cameroon’s key players Njoya Ajara Njout and skipper Gabrielle Onguene failed to trouble the Nigerian backline and coach Gabriel Zabo will hope they can do more when the team enters a repechage tie 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 progressed past the group stage twice – firstly, when reaching the quarter-finals in 1999 and then in 2019, after the tournament had expanded to 24 teams four years earlier.
Nigeria captain Onome Ebi, 39, played at the finals for the first time in 2003 and has not missed one since, so becoming the first African to play in five Women’s World Cups.
American coach Randy Waldrum, meanwhile, has tried to improve Nigeria’s level by lining up some high-profile friendlies, including two against sixth-placed Canada before the tournament, ending in a defeat and draw for his side.
He will need his side to overcome a crunch Rabat clash against a host nation in good form to have a chance of arriving at the World Cup as African champions again.