Sport

SOCCER

Sundowns Ladies ready to book their spot in inaugural Champions League

Bongeka Gamede of UWC challenges Andisiwe Mgcoyi of Mamelodi Sundowns (left) during the 2021 SAFA National Women's League match Between Mamelodi Sundowns and UWC on the 09 May 2021 at Lucas Moripe Stadium. The Sundowns Ladies are in Group B the CAF Women’s Champions League, which begins this weekend. (Photo: Sydney Mahlangu/ BackpagePix)

Years after it was first mooted, a Champions League competition for female football teams on the African continent will take place in 2021. Before that though, teams have to play regional qualifiers.

The inaugural Caf Women’s Champions League is scheduled for the end of the year. In recent weeks though, a giant step towards the long-planted seed of such a competition for female footballers finally sprouting was taken.

To decide the teams that will participate at the final competition in Egypt later this year, zonal qualifiers are being played as elimination rounds.

The top six teams – one from each Confederation of African Football (Caf) zone – and the host of the final tournament (Egypt), as well as one extra team from the zone holding the title of the previous Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (2018) will qualify for the tournament.

The latter spots have already been booked with Nigeria’s Rivers Angels and Ghanaian side Hasaacas Ladies, who both reached the final in the B zone of Western region, securing their tickets to Cairo.

In the Council of Southern Africa Football Associations (Cosafa) Southern regional qualifiers, Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies will represent South Africa.

“We have seven teams taking part in 2021, but by next year we hope to have all 14 of our member associations participating. This is just the start, but we are putting a peg in the ground,” Cosafa secretary general Sue Destombes said.

The draw saw Sundowns being seeded in Group A along with Lesotho Defence Force, Double Action Ladies from Botswana and Eswatini’s Manzini Wanderers.

Group B sees Zambia’s Green Buffaloes drawn alongside Black Rhino Queens of Zimbabwe and TURA Magic from Namibia.

The top two teams in each pool will advance to the semifinals.

A step in the right direction

Admittedly, the continental competition’s rollout coinciding with a global pandemic has somewhat deprived it of the sort of fanfare such a step for the progression of women’s football warrants. 

“With the Cosafa and Caf Women’s Champions Leagues coming on board, I believe we will have the chance to compete with the European countries in the future,” said Jerry Tshabalala, coach of Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies.

“How will the Caf tournament help us? Because of the increased level of competition among the players, one would know that after winning my local league, the chances are there for me to go and compete against the other African countries. It would mean a lot for us to qualify.”

The coach of Lesotho Defence Force, former senior men’s international Lengana Nkhethoa, echoed those sentiments.

“It’s a big opportunity, we don’t have that many players in our country that are playing abroad, so it will be a big opportunity for them to give themselves exposure to play for teams outside Lesotho,” he said. “That experience will give our national team the opportunity to improve also. It can make all our young players better. It is huge for women’s football.”

It will be a while before the competition reaches the heights that those invested in women’s football would like. However, the launching of the tournament after years of it being in the pipeline is a big stride forward for women’s football on the continent.

The Uefa Women’s Champions League in Europe is in its 20th year and has grown exponentially as a brand over that time. In another major step forward, Uefa announced earlier this year that from the 2021/2022 season, there would be an increase in prize money.

Every club that qualifies for the competition will benefit from the increased rewards available, whatever stage they reach. According to initial estimates, each club taking part in the group stage will receive a minimum reward of €400,000 (over R7-million) – about five times more than before in the round of 16. The winner stands to earn up to €1,4-million.

The African edition is still new, but with the vision of the current Caf president, Patrice Motsepe, its growth promises to be rapid. The former Sundowns president has expressed his desire to see the sport rise for the duration of his tenure.

“We want women’s football, in the period of my presidency, to be significantly growing, progressing and prospering,” said Motsepe.

The tournament is being hosted in Durban and all matches will be played at the King Zwelithini and Chatsworth stadiums from 26 August until 4 September. DM

Full fixture list

26 August 2021

Double Action Ladies vs Manzini Wanderers (11am)

26 August 2021

Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies vs Lesotho Defence Force (2pm)

27 August 2021

Green Buffaloes vs Black Rhinos Queens (2pm)

28 August 2021

Lesotho Defence Force vs Manzini Wanderers (11am)

28 August 2021

Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies vs Double Action Ladies (2pm)

29 August 2021

Tura Magic vs Black Rhinos Queens (2pm)

30 August 2021

Lesotho Defence Force vs Double Action Ladies (2pm)

30 August 2021

Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies vs Manzini Wanderers (2pm)

31 August 2021

Green Buffaloes vs Tura Magic (2pm)

2 September 2021

Semifinals

4 September 2021

Final

Gallery

Comments - share your knowledge and experience

Please note you must be a Maverick Insider to comment. Sign up here or sign in if you are already an Insider.

Everybody has an opinion but not everyone has the knowledge and the experience to contribute meaningfully to a discussion. That’s what we want from our members. Help us learn with your expertise and insights on articles that we publish. We encourage different, respectful viewpoints to further our understanding of the world. View our comments policy here.

All Comments 1

  • We’ve waited a long, long, long time for this. I say a big “thank you” to each and every woman who plays, coaches, supports and administrates women’s football.

    You’ve had to push against your own internalised sexism and against the widespread oppression you’ve undoubtedly faced to make this happen.

    I’m 63. My generation is the last one to be excluded from playing soccer, cricket and rugby. Although I would have very much have liked to have had those options open to me, I’m happy that I get to see this African competition in my lifetime.

    I was living in the UK when the Women’s Champions League started 20 years ago. I was an Arsenal Ladies supporter. I’d go to games where fantastic football was played – watched by 30-50 people, mostly family and friends of the players. It was heartbreaking. But slowly that competition has grown and become a televised sporting fixture.

    My most exciting moments (apart from watching Rachel Yankey curve the ball into the top of the net) were during the 2012 Olympics in London. I could get tickets to many of the women’s games because the stadiums held 70,000 people. Mostly the stands had empty spots but these were the biggest crowds I’d seen watching elite women athletes playing soccer.

    It will take time, but we will get there with African women’s football too and the world will get to see the skill, athleticism and power of the women of our beautiful continent.

  • Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted