AUCKLAND, New Zealand — Just how far can Africa go?
Eight months on from a record-breaking Qatar 2022 for the continent Africa’s representatives once again have the world sitting up and taking notice.
Of the four African sides that qualified for the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia and New Zealand 2023, three are still in the race, with Nigeria, South Africa and Morocco all winning through to the round of 16.
Only Zambia failed to progress beyond the group stage, though they can take satisfaction from a 3-1 defeat of Costa Rica.
The parallels between the two World Cups are remarkable. Just as the five men’s teams did in Qatar, all four women’s teams in action in Australia and New Zealand have won at least one match, with Morocco outdoing everyone by winning an unprecedented two in a row.
Never before has Africa had so many teams advance from the group stage at the Women’s World Cup, although that achievement has to be seen in the context of the tournament’s recent expansion to include more teams.
At USA 1999, Nigeria became the first African side to progress to the knockout rounds and remained the only one until Cameroon matched them 16 years later in Canada.
At France 2019, both nations made the last 16, the continent’s previous best. Africa’s representatives at Australia and New Zealand 2023 have each revealed their own strengths.
Inspired by the talismanic Asisat Oshoala, Nigeria have drawn on their experience and tradition to emerge from Group B unbeaten, defeating co-hosts Australia 3-2 along the way.
Pointless on their tournament debut in France four years ago, South Africa struggled to begin with this time around, losing 2-1 to Sweden and drawing 2-2 with Argentina.
Demonstrating that they could learn from their mistakes and why they are the reigning African champions, Banyana Banyana then edged out Italy 3-2 to progress.
Newcomers themselves this year, Zambia found Spain and Japan to be a cut above but made the most of their one realistic opportunity to pick up some points by beating Costa Rica.
Finally, Morocco showed the world that they are nothing if not resilient. Few would have given the Atlas Lionesses much chance of recovering from the 6-0 loss Germany inflicted on them in their opening match.
Yet, under the guidance of coach Reynald Pedros, who knows a thing or two about success, having conquered Europe with Lyon, Ghizlane Chebbak and her team-mates staged a remarkable recovery.
In beating Korea Republic and Colombia, they turned the tables on the two-time world champions to send them out of the competition.
Africa’s intrepid trio now have another barrier to break through: do what no other side from the continent has ever done and win a World Cup knockout match.
Judging by what they have achieved so far, it would be no surprise to see another African landmark achievement Down Under.