Tanzania’s regional win evidence of growing depth in Africa

  • Tanzania caused an upset in the 2021 COSAFA Women’s Championship

  • Favourites South Africa and Zambia forced to settle for semi-final berths

  • African qualifiers for Australia & New Zealand 2023 due to get underway

Tanzania are the latest nation to demonstrate that the talent pool in African women’s football is growing at an exponential rate. The Twiga Stars proved that upcoming African zone FIFA Women’s World Cup™ qualifiers will be a mouth-watering prospect by upsetting the odds to win the 2021 COSAFA Women’s Championship at the weekend.

As hosts, seven-time champions South Africa started as favourites in the eyes of many, followed by Zambia on the back of their recent breakthrough showing at the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament in Japan.

Instead a guest stole the show at the regional championship for nations in the bottom quarter of the Mother Continent. East African nation Tanzania, along with fellow guests South Sudan and Uganda, helped make up the 12-nation roster for the 22-match tournament played in Port Elizabeth over 12 whirlwind days.

Tanzania, Zambia and South Africa won the three respective groups, with Malawi edging Zimbabwe to join the trio in the semi-finals as the best runner-up. Despite missing their goalscoring powerhouse from Tokyo 2020, Barbra Banda, Zambia again displayed their free-scoring style with nine unanswered goals in the group stage.

Zambia, though, could find no way past Tanzania in the last-four match-up with the Twiga Stars triumphing on penalties.

Malawi made yet more history in the other semi-final with Sabinah Thom’s double earning a 3-2 victory over holders South Africa for a maiden ticket to the final. Conversely, it was the first time that the record holders have failed to make the championship decider.

Malawi players celebrate a goal scored by Fazila Chembekezo of Malawi during the 2021 COSAFA Womens Championship semifinal game between South Africa and Malawi at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Gqeberha on 7 October 2021 ©Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix

A lone second-half strike from Enekia Lunyamila proved enough for Tanzania to edge out Malawi for the title on Saturday. Tanzania’s captain Amina Bilali was named player of the tournament for her performances in midfield.

A penalty shoot-out win saw Zambia claim their fourth bronze medal to go with the silver they picked up in 2019. The was some consolation for South Africa with forward Sibulele Holweni (five goals) top goal-scorer for the second year running following on from her eight goal haul in 2020.

“We’ll make sure that we are in good shape,” said South Africa coach Desiree Ellis said after the tournament’s finale referencing the fast-looming continental qualifying campaign for Australia & New Zealand 2023.

Two rounds of home and away knockout ties will commence later this month, with the top four nations at next year’s 12-team CAF Women’s Africa Cup of Nations to win through to the world stage.