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Move over Asisat Oshoala, Thembi Kgatlana deserves African Women’s POTY

16:27 GMT 09/01/2019
Thembi Kgatlana
The South Africa forward beat off competition from Nigeria to take the mantle of Africa’s best female player

COMMENT    By Kunle Fayiga     Follow on Twitter
 

For the past four years, the women’s game in Africa has been dominated by Asisat Oshoala, who has won the African Women’s Player of the Year three times.

There was hardly any debate about it in the past, but it was different this time.

The Dalian Quanjian forward was up against compatriot Francisca Ordega and South Africa’s Thembi Kgatlana, but lost out this time as the Banyana Banyana forward took the award.

Many had tipped Ordega, as she was instrumental in the Super Falcons lifting a ninth Africa Women Cup of Nations title in Ghana, having a hand in four goals and winning the Woman of the Match twice, including the final, where Nigeria downed South Africa on penalties.

Oshoala was hardly at her optimum best in the tournament, wasting glorious chances in the in the group games against South Africa and Zambia before coming alive against Equatorial Guinea. She scored a hat-trick in this game, although admittedly, this did come against the group's weakest side.

Oshoala had the chance to be the heroine in the final against SA, but she missed her chance from the penalty spot with less than 20 minutes left on the clock. It capped off what was a very poor tournament by her standards.

The Falcons winning via a shootout was the saving grace, because if that didn’t happen, Oshoala wouldn’t have been spared by fans back home.

Kgatlana, by contrast, was the undisputed star of the 2018 AWCON, finishing as top scorer with five strikes and wining the Golden Boot. She will be remembered for scoring a brilliant goal in the group opener against the Falcons which condemned the West African giants to their first ever tournament opening loss.

Having latched on to a crossfield ball, Kgatlana fired a rasping volley home from a very tight angle on the right flank which left Nigeria goalie Tochukwu Oluehi for dead. It was truly a beauty and the best in the tournament which ultimately gave her the Goal of the Year at the Caf Awards.

It also came as no surprise when the Houston Dash player was announced as the 2018 African Women’s Player of the Year in Dakar, becoming only the second South African woman after Noko Matlou to win the award.

For a prize that has been dominated by Nigerians, this was a worthy way to break the West Africans' hegemony.

It’s painful that South Africa could not win the AWCON tournament because they were one of the best prepared sides and they showed that they meant business throughout.

Nigeria might be the dominant force in Africa, but the AWCON 2018 has demonstrated that a couple of sides are fast improving, hence the Falcons will be severely tested in the coming years.

Banyana are typically the next strongest side after Nigeria, and with Kgatlana’s heroics, they might finally break the Falcons' grip on continental competition.

Desire Ellis’s ladies have qualified for a first ever Women’s World Cup where they’ll take on Germany, China and Spain in their group in June. It’s another chance for the dazzling Kgatlana to show what she’s made of, which could also determine if she retains her crown in 2019.

Could this be the end of Oshoala’s dominance for good?

That remains to be seen, but Kgatlana's award-winning performances have served as a reminder that everything won't always go Nigeria's way in the women's game. 

For all that she’s shown at just 22, this could be the beginning of period just as consistent as Oshoala's last few years.