African teams have made a great impression at the 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. Their performance shows just how much the women’s game has improved across the continent.
by Joel Omotto, bird story agency
Following the conclusion of the group stage action, Africa will have three teams in the Round of 16 for the first time in the tournament’s history after Nigeria, South Africa and Morocco sealed their place in dramatic fashion.
For the first time in the Cup's history, all African teams won a match at the tournament, a sign of the giant strides made in continental women's football over the past few years.
Prior to the 2023 edition, only Nigeria, who have been to all nine tournaments, and Cameroon, participants in 2015 and 2019, had advanced from the group stage.
The Super Falcons did it in 1999 when they reached the quarter-final, and in 2019, while the Indomitable Lionesses reached the last 16 on both occasions when they qualified for the World Cup. However, this year, three out of four teams exceeded all expectations, going into their final matches in the opening round with their backs against the wall.
The Super Falcons started with a goalless draw against Canada and needed to win against co-hosts Australia to stand any chance of making it past the group for the third time in their World Cup history.
It looked a little impossible, given they were facing the home team who were backed by a large home crowd but Randy Waldrum’s side was unfazed.
They stunned their hosts by storming to a 3-1 win inside 72 minutes and even with 10 minutes added on, Australia could only add one more as Nigeria pulled off a shock 3-2 win, leaving them needing just a draw in their final group match, to advance to the Round of 16.
They did exactly that against the Republic of Ireland, recording another goalless draw and advancing from Group B as runners-up. They will face England in the Round of 16 and even though the European champions are one of the favourites, the West Africans have already made a big enough statement to have plenty of confidence and little to lose.
South Africa came into the 2023 tournament seeking their first World Cup match win. The team was known as Banyana. Banyana made their World Cup debut in France four years ago but went home empty-handed after losing all their group-stage games.
Things are different this time around. After some early jitters, they have started to show the world why they are the reigning African champions.
South Africa nearly held Sweden to a 1-1 draw before conceding a last-minute goal to lose 2-1 but made amends in the following match, recording a 2-2 draw with Argentina, before stunning Italy 3-2 in the third group match to clinch their ticket.
The final match had plenty of knife's edge moments, with Italy needing just a draw to qualify, while Argentina had to beat Sweden – but it was Desiree Ellis’s side who pulled off the unimaginable, to finish second in Group G, sparking colourful celebrations down under as well as back home in the Rainbow Nation.
South Africa now faces one of the tournament’s favourites, the Netherlands, in the Round of 16 but they have already achieved their target, so anything more will be a bonus.
Making their debut at the World Cup, few gave the Atlas Lionesses a chance of winning a match, let alone reaching the knockout round.
They seem to have proved their doubters correct on Match Day One, when they were thumped 6-0 by Germany and with a feisty South Korean team and the enterprising Colombians still to come, it looked like their run was doomed.
However, they pulled off a surprise 1-0 win against the South Koreans to revive their hopes and against the odds, silenced Colombia by the same score line to book their place in the Round 16.
Morocco finished second in Group H with six points, the same as Colombia, with two-time world champions Germany suffering a shock group stage elimination, despite their great start.
By securing second place, Morocco set up a clash with France on August 8 and regardless of the outcome, the Atlas Lionesses have done Africa proud – and made history by not just winning a match in their World Cup debut but going past the group stage.
Zambia were the only African team not to go past their group but they left with their heads held high.
Also making their debut, the Copper Queens suffered identical 5-0 defeats to Japan and Spain respectively but saved the best for last, edging out Costa Rica 3-1 to ensure that no African team went home without a victory.
Zambia have learned valuable lessons in their first tournament and with a young team led by 23-year-old captain Barbara Banda, they should be one of the teams to watch in the 2027 tournament.
bird story agency