Reigning African champions Equatorial Guinea sent out an emphatic message about their hopes of FIFA Women’s World Cup qualification as they began their bid for a place in the 2011 finals in Germany with a thumping 5-1 away win against Namibia.

The first leg victory all-but guarantees their presence in the finals of the African Women’s Championship in South Africa, which is due to take place in October with the hosts and seven winners from the knockout qualifying round.

Equatorial Guinea, who surprisingly won the continental title for the first time when they hosted the tournament two years ago, had a bye into the last stage but looked far from rusty as they demolished their hosts in Windhoek at the weekend. Tanzania also virtually booked their place in October’s tournament by beating Eritrea 8-1 at home in the first leg of their tie. The field of eight teams will also likely see multiple African champions Nigeria, Ghana, Mali and Cameroon, who won their away matches at the weekend.

Namibia took a shock lead within two minutes of the start in Windhoek, as Juliana Skrywer fired home from some 20 metres out, but the home team’s dreams were soon dashed as the African champions got into their stride and netted five times by half-time. Carolina Martin scored twice and captain Genoveva Anonghan netted a fine individual effort at the end of a mazy solo run.

Equatorial Guinea used their superior physical strength to great advantage and dominated off the set pieces, scoring two more before the break from Salimata Simpore and Gloria Chinasa. The visitors went for the kill in the second half but found Namibia’s defence much more resolute, although Chinasa missed an open goal from Simpore’s cross in the final stages.

Tanzania romp, Nigeria hang on
Striker Mwanahamisi Omary scored four goals and attack partner Asha Rashid grabbed herself a hat-trick in Tanzania’s rout over the Eritreans at Dar-es-Salaam’s Uhuru Stadium, where a fair sized crowd got full value for their entrance fee from the Twiga Stars.

Tanzania were ahead as early as the sixth minute and had scored four by half-time, including a long range drive from captain Sophia Mwasikili. Barely a minute before the final whistle, Eritrea got their consolation through Rahwa Solomon.

Nigeria’s Super Falcons, who had previously won every African Women’s Championship and are the only African side to have played in all of the previous FIFA Women’s World Cup tournaments, claimed a hard-fought 2-1 in Abidjan against Côte d'Ivoire. Perpetua Nkwocha opened the scoring in the 24th minute, and before the break, Ohadugha Onyinyechi doubled the lead.

But the Ivorians showed a fighting spirit in the second half and were given a standing ovation as they left the arena for their doughty efforts. They scored a consolation goal seven minutes from the end through substitute Koffi N’Guessan and then laid siege to the Nigerian goal in search of an equaliser that failed to materialise

Diana Ankromah scored for Ghana’s Black Queens in their 1-0 win over Senegal in Dakar. Both Mali and Cameroon also won away - Mali in Guinea and Cameroon over a Democratic Republic of Congo team that had high hopes for this year’s preliminaries after previously having qualified for the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup.

The only tie still in the balance is that between Algeria and Tunisia. The first leg ended 1-1 in Koula on Friday with hosts Algeria claiming a dramatic equaliser in the fourth minute of stoppage time at the end of the game. Chebbi Marwa put Tunisia ahead in the 73rd minute penalty, but Bouhenni Benziane equalised right at the end.

The return legs taken placed on the weekend of 4-6 June and the seven winners join South Africa at the final tournament with two places in next summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup at stake.