Such has been Nigeria's dominance of women's football in Africa that the real question at previous African women's championships has been who will finish runners-up spot rather than who will win.

Nigeria play host to the fifth CAF Women's Championship, which gets underway at the weekend, and are again overwhelming favourites to match their gold medal success in all four of the previous tournaments.  But with the top two finishers going on to represent Africa at the FIFA Women's World Cup 2007 in China, there is still much at stake in the two-week competition.

Eight countries have qualified for the tournament, which is being hosted in Oghara, Oleh, Warri and Ughelli, all situated in the country's Delta province.  Nigeria host the event for the third time, having stepped in as emergency replacements when Gabon pulled out earlier in the year.

Home advantage or not, the Super Falcons are expected to again finish on the winners' podium, although the margin and measure of their dominance is decreasing with each passing year. However, coach Ntiero Effiom still commands a talented group of players and is brimming with pleasure at the experience of training a side bursting with potential.  "I've been pleasantly surprised with the competition for places. It is amazing the level of rivalry among the players," he said. 

A wealth of talent
Nigeria have recalled professional footballers from Europe and the USA, including the likes of Maureen Mmadu, Yinka Kudaisi and Faith Ikidi from Sweden, Cynthia Uwka from Finland and reigning back-to-back CAF Women's Footballer of the Year Perpetua Nkwocha, who plays her club football in China.

The Super Falcons open the tournament with a match against Equatorial Guinea, who are an unknown factor and participate for the first time in an African championship of any kind.The match in Warri is followed by the second Group A encounter between South Africa and Algeria, both past participants at previous African women's championships, and who meet in Oleh.

South Africa have high hopes of reaching a first ever FIFA Women's World Cup after coming narrowly close in the past. Before their side departed for Lagos on Tuesday, they met with former president, and world icon Nelson Mandela, who gave them an encouraging send off.

Former South African international August Makalakalane, once a professional at FC Zurich in Switzerland, is now coach and says: "It will be tough in Nigeria but I have no doubt that our girls are ready.  This is a perfect opportunity for us to redeem our tarnished image," he added in a reference to the fact that Banyana Banyana failed to get past the first round when they hosted the last championships in Johannesburg two years ago.

Algeria have put in extensive preparation in their bid for glory, training for a fortnight in Senegal under the tutelage of coach Azzedine Chih. 

Lionesses and Queens favoured to progress
Group B action will begin on Sunday with Ghana and Cameroon favourites to progress to the next stage. Cameron take on DR Congo in Ughelli in their first match while Ghana play Mali in Oghara.

Ghana have participated in previous FIFA Women's World Cup tournaments and have a strong squad, led by skipper Adjoa Bayor and have two overseas-based professionals, defenders Mavis Danso and Patricia Ofori in their ranks. Bayor is also a former CAF Women's Footballer of the Year.

The 'Black Queens' hold the distinction of being the only African side to have ever beaten Nigeria, in a group match in Warri in the 2002 event. However, coach Isaac Paha, who took Ghana's U-20 team to the FIFA World Youth Championships, has dropped several regular faces from his squad after taking  them on a three-week training camp to the USA.

Cameroon also go into the tournament with an impressive pedigree, having edged Ghana out in the 2004 semi-finals, but then lost 4-0 to Nigeria in the deciding match.  Charles Kandem is in charge once again with many players also returning for another tilt at the title - and the added incentive of a trip to China next year.

The final of the CAF Women's Championship will be played in Warri on Saturday 11 November.