The 12th Women’s Africa Cup of Nations kicks off in Morocco on 2 July.
Africa’s four qualifiers for next year’s Women’s World Cup will be decided at the tournament, which culminates with the final on Saturday, 23 July.
Here, BBC Sport Africa runs the rule over Group A, which includes hosts Morocco, Senegal, Uganda and debutants Burkina Faso.
Group A fixtures
Saturday, 2 July: Morocco v Burkina Faso (Rabat)
Sunday, 3 July: Senegal v Uganda (Rabat)
Tuesday, 5 July: Burkina Faso v Senegal, Uganda v Morocco (Rabat)
Friday, 8 July: Morocco v Senegal (Rabat), Burkina Faso v Uganda (Casablanca)
Back at the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (WAFCON) after a 22-year absence and eyeing a maiden Women’s World Cup spot, Morocco have their status as host nation to thank for their automatic qualification.
The North Africans appeared at the first finals in 1998, when they had their best run – amassing four points and their only win to date (a 4-1 victory over Egypt) – but missed the knock-out stages on goal difference before falling away after their second trip to the finals in 2000.
In 2020, a four-year women’s football development programme was introduced, one that helped AS FAR – who contribute over half the squad – become zonal champions before winning bronze in last year’s Women’s African Champions League.
The side has also been boosted by the 2020 arrival of French coach Reynald Pedros – a two-time European Women’s Champions League winner with Lyon – who has hit the ground running, enjoying a 12-match unbeaten streak against African sides.
The 2020 North African champions have played a host of games in the past year, stunning Cameroon in September at the 2021 Aisha Buhari Cup where they also beat Ghana and Mali among others.
They have an admirable array of talent including AS FAR duo Sanaa Mssoudy and Ghizlane Chebbak (daughter of former men’s international Larbi Chebbak), and Dijon midfielder Salma Amani, who boasts 18 years of experience in Europe.
Burkina Faso are the best-ranked of the four nations debuting at WAFCON this year and arrive with a squad where all but two players are based on home soil.
Not the first team that comes to mind when one thinks of Africa’s strongest football nations, the Stallions – aided by some big-name absentees – are nonetheless among the finals’ best eight sides according to the Fifa rankings.
Following his impactful takeover in November, coach Pascal Sawadogo – the founder and handler of multiple cup winner Etincelles – will rely on captain Charlotte Millogo, star striker Juliette Nana, 21, and Morocco-based Limata Nikiema to cause a stir.
Having shone for Belarus’ Neman Grodno with 22 goals in 25 league games, Nana will be one to watch in a side who knocked out Benin (5-2 agg) before sweeping past Guinea-Bissau (7-0 agg) to reach their first finals.
After 10 years away, Senegal are back on the continental stage and looking to improve on their sole previous showing in 2012 when they scored none and conceded seven.
After beating Liberia in the first round of qualifying, the Teranga Lionesses upset none other than Mali, who had reached the 2018 WAFCON semi-finals, to ensure their second appearance.
The qualification via a penalty shoot-out rewarded Senegal’s investment in the women’s game, with the nation also recently reaching the final round of the African qualifiers for the Under-20 Women’s World Cup.
After taking charge in early 2020, Mame Moussa Cisse – excelling this time, after a failed attempt to qualify in 2016 – will be counting on France-based trio Safietou Sagna, Marseille playmaker Awa Diakhate and Nguenar Ndiaye.
Domestic Senegalese women’s football has been growing recently, with last season’s double winners, US Parcelles Assainies (USPA), providing eight of the squad, including striker Hapsatou Malado Diallo, who is just 16.
The East African nation may be the second lowest-ranked team in the competition (156th), but they reached Morocco after shocking Ethiopia before being gifted a return ticket thanks to Kenya’s withdrawal.
In what will be their second WAFCON appearance, but a first in 22 years, the Crested Cranes will be guided by experienced coach George Lutalo.
He took over as manager last September and edged them past the Ethiopians on penalties – a result ultimately good enough to take them to WAFCON and one which came weeks after crashing out early after being invited to the 2021 Cosafa Women’s Cup.
Lutalo, who handles local league side Onduparaka, has proved his mettle and his charges enter on a high after winning the Cecafa Cup just weeks ago, beating fellow WAFCON debutants Burundi 3-1 in the final on home soil on 11 June.
Overseas-based players like Finland-based goalkeeper Ruth Aturo, Kazakhstan Women’s Cup winner Fauzia Najjemba, just 18, plus Rita Kivumbi and forward Violah Nambi, based in Sweden and Austria respectively, will be key to a positive display.
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