FIFA Women's World Cup 2023: African women embark upon global challenge
South Africa, Morocco, Zambia and Nigeria will hope to go further than any other African side has done in the past
For the first time at a FIFA Women's World Cup, Africa will have four representatives as the tournament welcomes 32 teams to Australia and New Zealand.
The women's game has seen growth across many continents, with last year's CAF Women's Africa Cup of Nations expanded to 12 teams for the first time. But how far can Africa's women contingents go in this larger global format?
The most successful side in African women's football, the Super Falcons return to the World Cup for the ninth straight time since the first one in was held in 1991 in China. They reached the quarterfinals in 1999, the best finish for an African team at the World Cup, and the last eight in France four years ago. Packed with experienced campaigners, Nigeria holds Africa's best hope of reaching the next round with co-hosts Australia, Canada and Ireland in Group B.
"Our target is to go there and get to at least the last four, because the last time we got to the round-of-16 and we are working towards getting past that stage," said team captain Onome Ebi, who returns for a record sixth tournament. The Falcons have had issues with the Nigeria Football Federation over bonuses but hope that it won't affect their campaign.
"I think we have very mentally strong players,” said star striker Asisat Oshoala, who has scored at the last two World Cups.
"We will go out there and fight as always and do our job.”
Banyana Banyana return to the World Cup for the second time after their debut in 2019. The team's preparations were stalled due to recent fights over bonuses with the South African Football Association (SAFA), but this has now been resolved, so the reigning African champions can focus on putting up a good challenge in Group G with Italy, Sweden and Argentina.
The South Africans welcome back star striker Thembi Kgatlana in time for the World Cup. The 2018 African Women's Footballer of the Year winner was out of action for almost a year after picking up an injury at last year's WAFCON.
"We want you to go there and make Africa proud and get into the knockout stages, second round phase and then in the final stages,” Danny Jordaan, president of the SAFA, told the ladies.
There is excitement back home among South African fans. "My message to them is ‘bring it home.' It's as simple as that," said Zanele Dlamini.
The Copper Queens are the first team from Zambia to play at a senior World Cup. It has highlighted a path for many other African countries to invest in women's football where their men's team may not be able to make it to the World Cup. The Queens made their first big splash internationally when striker Barbra Banda scored two hattricks at the Tokyo Olympic Games. She returns to the team for the World Cup after missing out on the WAFCON after having failed a gender eligibility test due to high testosterone levels.
Banda scored a spectacular winner in a 3-2 friendly victory against Germany ahead of the World Cup. She is expected to lead the Queens' campaign in Group C against Spain, Costa Rica and Japan.
"Coach Bruce Mwape and his technical bench, have been preparing the team, for a long period, and they have since arrived in New Zealand, confident that their mission ahead is going to be going to end in a huge success," team media officer, Sydney Mungala told DW.
"Whatever stage they are going to reach, we are going to give them the support,” said Zambian fan Kafula Chanda.
The Atlas Lionesses were the surprise revelation at last year's WAFCON where they finished second on home ground. They knocked out perennial champions Nigeria in a tempestuous semifinal and picked up their first World Cup ticket, underlining the immense investment by the Royal Moroccan Football Federation. Star players Ghizlane Chebbak and Fatima Tagnaout came into continental prominence at the WAFCON, they will hope to shine bright on the global stage where they play in Group H against two-time winners Germany, Colombia and South Korea.
"We hope to be the underdogs that surprise everyone," captain Chebbak told DW.
"This love from the fans is very encouraging. And gives us the motivation to continue our work."
Morocco's men hit a big high by reaching the semifinals of the men's World Cup in Qatar last December. Can the women's team inspire another celebration with their campaign in Australia and New Zealand?
As the first Arab country at the World Cup, the Lionesses represent an example that could encourage other Arab countries to invest more in women's football.
"Progress is happening,” said Chebbak. "I hope the next generation can bring us joy. And maybe win the World Cup and African Cup.”
Edited by Chuck Penfold.
Published: 19 Jul 2023, 9:00 AM