Africa Women Cup of Nations: Group stage review

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With the continental women's championship headed towards the last four, Goal reviews the major talking points of the first round

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It's been a thrilling Africa Women Cup of Nations tournament in Ghana so far. From the surprises, the shocks, the bottlers, the cricket scores, there's been more than enough action for some great headlines.

Saturday did not just bring an end to the group stage, but also threw up some interesting semi-final fixtures; while reigning champions Nigeria will face 2016 runners-up Cameroon in Accra on Tuesday, South Africa will lock horns with Mali in Cape Coast same day.

So just what have been the major talking points of the first round?

Ghana women coach Bashir Hayford

Disappointing hosts tumble in humiliating fashion

Instead of ending their wait for a first continental title, Ghana’s inability to make the last four is without a doubt the biggest disappointment of the tournament so far. Three-time losing finalists and third-placed finishers at Cameroon 2016, the hosts failed to make the most of their home advantage, the boon rather turning out to be nothing but a poisoned chalice.

A series of wasted chances saw the Black Queens just pip Algeria 1-0 in their tournament opener before falling 2-1 to Mali in their second game. A 1-1 draw with Cameroon in their last tie proved woefully inadequate as Bashir Hayford’s outfit finished three and two points below the Indomitable Lionesses and Les Aiglonnes respectively on Group A’s table.

South Africa earn early favourites tag

Amid concerns about their under-achievement at previous tournaments, Banyana Banyana came into Ghana 2018 as perhaps the most prepared side. A stunning 1-0 win over eight-time champions Nigeria in their opener forced many into an early revision of their notes.

A 7-1 annihilation of Equatorial Guinea followed, as they made a true statement of intent.

With a 1-1 draw with Zambia on Saturday, Desiree Ellis’ outfit finished top of Group B with seven points, a mark better than Nigeria.

For many, South Africa have exhibited the best brand of football at the tournament so far, and it will come as no surprise should they go on to lift a historic first title.

Asisat Oshoala - Nigeria women

Nigeria back in the race after initial set-back

It was some opening for the defending champions as they suffered a shocking 1-0 reversal to South Africa on matchday one. The Nigerian concern, at that moment, was not just about the result but also about the lacklustre performance on the day.

With a 4-0 thrashing of Zambia on matchday two, however, the Super Falcons got back into the tournament early enough to avoid what would have been a grand capitulation by an early exit. With a 6-0 shellacking of Equatorial Guinea on Saturday, the eight-time champions have shown that it will be wrong for anyone to write them off simply due to their faltering start.

This could be Cameroon’s year

The Indomitable Lionesses have always shown signs upsetting the continental giants, and Ghana 2018 could just be that time to realise that promise. They made the final at the last two events, losing both to Nigeria.

However, following 2-1 and 3-0 wins over Mali and Algeria respectively, Cameroon managed to hold ther own in their last group game against the hosts, finishing top of Group A after a 1-1 draw. Tuesday’s semi-final against Nigeria has been tagged the ‘final before the final’ for the Lionesses. For many, should they upset the Super Falcons, there will just be no stopping this time around.

Thembi Kgatlana and Leandra Smeda of South Africa, Banyana Banyana

The best players

South Africa’s Thembi Kgatlana is, without doubt, the star of the tournament so far. Not only has she slammed home four goals already, but has also won Woman of the Match awards in all three games so far.

Nigeria’s Asisat Oshoala has been the star of their turnaround, capping a great display against Equatorial Guinea on Friday with a hat-trick.

The performances of Cameroon midfielder Raissa Feudjio and winger Gabrielle Onguene, Zambia duo Racheal Kundananji and Mary Mwakapila, as well as the Malian pair Fatoumata Diarra and Bassira Toure cannot go unmentioned.

The most disappointing woman

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Ghana captain Elizabeth Addo came into the tournament as the star of the Black Queens but left with nothing but disappointment.

A poor performance in the opening game against Algeria saw her relegated to the bench for the second match against Mali.

She won back her starting spot for the final tie against Cameroon on Friday, but she was largely unseen in the game as Hayford’s outfit kissed the tournament goodbye.

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