African aspirants line up for 2023 charge

  • Africa becomes the third continent to begin qualifiers for Australia & New Zealand 2023

  • Three-stage qualification process will end with four automatic qualifiers

  • 11-time continental champions Nigeria face Ghana in a headline-grabbing opening round tie

African qualifying for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup™ is shaping up as a campaign like no other. For so long Nigeria, in concert with Ghana, were the undisputed African queens but, much like women's football in other parts of the globe, times are changing fast on the Mother Continent. Equatorial Guinea broke through for milestone qualification for Germany 2011, Cameroon and Côte d'Ivoire did likewise four years later, and South Africa continued the trend at France 2019. This cycle promises to bring hotly contested jousting for the four automatic tickets – one more than the last Women’s World Cup - to the newly-enhanced 32-nation roster for Australia & New Zealand 2023. Forty-four nations are lining up for the first qualifying round, which largely takes place on Wednesday. The return leg over the coming week will trim the list of 2023 contenders in half, with the format leaving little margin for error. Next year’s continental hosts Morocco are also in the field meaning a record 45 nations will compete overall.

CAF qualifying for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup

Round 1 22 home and away matches 20-26 October Round 2 11 home and away matches Date TBC CAF Africa Women’s Cup of Nations Hosts Morocco joined by 11 Round 2 winners 2-23 July 2022 The top four teams will qualify for Australia & New Zealand 2023 with two further nations to participate in the intercontinental play-off tournament.

CAF Women’s Africa Cup of Nations Morocco 2022 draw

The familiar names

Nigeria and Ghana were unluckily paired together in the regionalised draw in what is undoubtedly the highlight of Round 1. The duo are Africa’s most successful nations with 11 Women’s World Cup appearances between them - Nigeria have never missed an edition - but only one will be left standing when the second leg takes place in Accra on Sunday. Veteran American coach Randy Waldrum leads Nigeria, who, after a relatively busy 2021, will have all their star attacking personal available led by Barcelona-based dynamo Asisat Oshoala. Cameroon came to global attention with an eye-catching showing at Canada 2015. Les Lionnes Indomptables pushed world champions Japan all the way before a stunning and deserved win over Switzerland secured knockout stage qualification. Star forward Gaelle Enganamouit is no longer available but they will be optimistic ahead of a match-up against neighbours Central African Republic, before a Round 2 tie against the winner of Sierra Leone v Gambia.

REIMS, FRANCE - JUNE 05: Asisat Oshoala of Nigeria poses for a portrait during the official FIFA Women's World Cup 2019 portrait session at Hotel Mercure Reims Centre Cathedrale on June 05, 2019 in Reims, France. (Photo by Ben Radford - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

The newer names

South Africa cast aside a heartbreaking narrow miss for Canada 2015 to reach football’s grand stage for the first time four years later. Banyana Banyana didn’t look out of place at France 2019, but 2021 has been a mixed year with a notable win over Nigeria followed recently by a rare defeat at the COSAFA Championship. Few expected Zambia to make a major impact at the recent Women’s Olympic Football Tournament, but the Copper Queens gave Brazil a run for their money and were unlucky to only earn a draw against China PR. Powerhouse striker Barbra Banda marked herself as a bona-fide new global star with the 21-year-old’s six-goal haul following on from a top-scorer crown in the Chinese league. Zambia, however, face a tough opening challenge in the shape of Malawi, recent victors over South Africa. Tanzania boast little historical pedigree – 2011 was their lone Africa Women Cup of Nation appearance – but the Twiga Stars shape as dark horse based on recent form. Participating as a guest at the COSAFA Championship, the East Africans outlasted Zambia in the semi-final before eventually winning the crown and ending South Africa’s long grip on the trophy.