Equatorial Guinea Assume Mantle as Africa’s Top Women’s Team
By winning the 6th African Women Championship, hosts Equatorial Guinea not only became the second country in history so to do, but also destroyed the old order along the way. Nigeria’s has always dominated the women’s scene, with Cameroon, Ghana, and South Africa providing occasional competition. When the draw for the tournament was made, and the Guineans avoided three of the aforementioned foursome – Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa – the hosts breathed a sigh of relief, but quickly remembered that Cameroon still posed a threat in the Malabo-based Group A.
The very first match of the tournament pitted Equatorial Guinea against a Cameroonian team that had appeared in all the semi-finals since the inaugural tournament in 1998, as well as the final in 2004. Cameroon was easily humbled, 1-0. Mali and DR Congo were the other teams in the group: regulars in a competition that the new champions had previously qualified for only once. While Mali and DR Congo featured in 2006, Mali was present in 2004 and 2002, and DR Congo, Kinshasha played in 1998 – they both fell to the unheralded hosts 1-2, and 2-5 respectively.
Then came the supposed final before the final–the five-time defending champion against the champion-in-waiting. Against all odds,Equatorial Guinea triumphed 1-0 over a thoroughly lackluster Super Falcons of Nigeria to march into the final. On the other side of the bracket, in the city of Bata, the hotly-tipped Group of Death – due to the presence of Nigeria, South Africa, and Ghana – did not produce the expected fireworks. Nigeria, South Africa, and Ghana have all contested the last five finals. Nigeria had won all the finals since 1998, Ghana had been to all the semi-finals and contested finals in 1998, 2002, and 2006, while South Africa had three semi-finals and one final match in 2000 under its belt.
In the first match of the group, Ghana and Nigeria cancelled each other out (1-1) while South Africa expectedly piped Tunisia 1-0. The form book was thrown out when South Africa beat Ghana 1-0, on a day Tunisia also held Nigeria to a goalless draw. The last match of the group saw the reawakened Black Queens of Ghana beat Tunisia 3-2 while Nigeria scrapped to a 1-0 against a weakened South Africa team before finally crashing out against Equatorial Guinea.
South Africa, Winners of Group B, came face-to-face with Cameroon in a match many thought the Indomitable Lionesses would run away with. However it was not to be as an emphatic 3-0 hammering demoted the 2004 finalists to a battle Nigeria for bronze, while a ‘virgin’ final beckoned between Equatorial Guinea and South Africa. Previous records, and Bayana Bayana’s gradual improvement over the years, all pointed to a South African edge over the hosts, but again, the hosts established their ascending supremacy with a 2-1 victory, and managed not to lose a single match on their way to a historic crown. Hats off to the Equatorial Guinea women for a remarkable feat and the dawn of a new era in African women’s football.