Morocco and Zambia are making their Fifa Women’s World Cup debut in 2023. South Africa must recover their morale after a pay dispute and Nigeria once again leads the charge for the continent.
The tournament, hosted by Australia and New Zealand, is being held in the southern hemisphere for the first time – from 20 July until 20 August.
It has expanded this year, with 32 nations competing for the trophy instead of 24. This opens up opportunities for new teams to reach the knockout phase (final 16) of the tournament.
As a professor and scholar of sport science with a strong research focus on African football, I have been following the growing women’s game on the continent with interest.
Although the four African teams to qualify are not among the favourites to lift the World Cup trophy, there’s a strong chance one of them could make it to the knockouts. Certainly, they all have the potential to stir things up.
Zambia are hoping to make a big impact as they appear at this elite tournament for the first time. At the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics, the team showed glimpses of brilliance that many expect to see more of. During the Olympics, star striker Barbra Banda led from the front, becoming the first woman to score back-to-back hat-tricks at the games.
She was also at the heart of a shock win over Germany ahead of the 2023 World Cup and will no doubt be instrumental in this competition. As she is the first professional woman footballer from Zambia, a lot is expected from Banda. Her mantra is:
To leave a mark, my own name, my own record book.
Zambia’s opponents include the 2011 World Cup champions Japan, Costa Rica and Spain.
Morocco’s national team, the Atlas Lionesses, will also be making their debut. They carry the weight of being the first women’s team from the Arab world to play on the World Cup stage. Arab countries, where many are wild for the men’s game, are not known to have women participate in team sports.
This will, therefore, be a trailblazing effort that’s bound to attract worldwide attention, especially if Morocco were to win a few matches. One would hope that the heroic efforts of their male counterparts at the 2022 World Cup will inspire the women’s team.
Morocco, the 2022 Women’s African Cup of Nations runners-up, will take on two-time champions Germany, Colombia and Korea Republic. Their star player is Rosella Ayane, born in the UK but opting to play for the country of her father’s family. The striker is the forward spark Morocco needed, with seven goals in 15 games since her senior international debut in 2021.
South Africa have become a powerful force in African women’s football. The team won the 2022 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations, their first major title. However, they head into the World Cup under a cloud after refusing to play their final warm-up match against Botswana over a pay dispute. The players have often complained that they aren’t given the recognition or benefits that the men’s team gets, a common feature in African football. The South African team and their officials must quickly resolve their differences to focus on their upcoming matches, which include Sweden, Argentina and Italy.
South Africa rely on a youthful squad. The majority of players ply their trade in their home country and are in their peak years or have a certain youthful exuberance. South Africa will be led by their star player Thembi Kgatlana, who scored the country’s first – and so far only – goal on the World Cup stage when she put Banyana Banyana ahead against Spain in 2019. Kgatlana has played club football all around the world.
Nigeria have been to the World Cup ever since its inaugural edition in 1991. Their best results were reaching the quarter-final in 1999 and qualifying for the second round in 2019. They’re scheduled to play co-hosts Australia, as well as Canada and debutantes Ireland.
Nigeria will be led by their star player, Asisat Oshoala, who has a record of success wherever she’s played. She is a five-time winner of the African Women’s Footballer of the Year award and scored in both the 2015 and 2019 World Cups, so will be aiming to make it three in a row.
African women’s teams are not ranked highly as they enter the 2023 Women’s World Cup. Nigeria is the highest ranked at 40, followed by South Africa at 54, Morocco at 72 and Zambia at 77.
However, there is strong hope that with the newly expanded tournament, an African team can rise to the occasion and cause enough upsets to make it to the knockout rounds of the tournament.