In the next few days, the 11th edition of the Africa Women Cup of Nations will begin. The competition, aptly named AWCON, is held once every two years. It brings together the top African women national teams to compete for 15 days in a tournament that will determine the FIFA Women World Cup qualifiers. The AWCON 2018 host is Ghana, and the event will have two host cities, both in Ghana. The first is Accra, at the Accra Sports Stadium which has a seating capacity of 40,000 people. The second city is the Cape Coast, at the Cape Coast Sports Stadium, the stadium capacity maxes out at 15,000. The competition receives considerably lower amounts of media coverage compared to the upcoming AFCON next year.
In this article, we will break AWCON history down, from its beginnings to how the draws and qualifiers are done today.
Difference between AFCON and AWCON
Not to be confused with AFCON, AWCON is the equivalent of the tournament. AWCON stands for Africa Women Cup of Nations whereas AFCON is simply the African Cup of Nations which is played by men. The two are very far apart concerning how well the game has been developed. The men’s competition has a total of 24 teams whereas AWCON 2018 in Ghana will only have only 8 teams. This is why the competition will just need two host cities and less than a month to be complete. The second reason why the game is not as developed as the men’s equivalent is the little interest many participating nations take in hosting the competition. The best indicator of this is the hosting. To win the right to prepare and host the tournament, Ghana was the only country to bid. This led to Ghana being awarded the right de facto on 27th September 2016 followed by an official confirmation in December the same year.
The African Women’s Championship this year is sponsored by Total. The competition will, therefore, be called, 2018 Total Women’s Africa Cup of Nations. You will likely see this naming for more African Women’s Championship competitions as Total signed a major sponsorship deal with CAF in which the company will sponsor 10 competitions.
The first ever African Cup of Nations women's football competition was held was in 1991. Nigeria won the 1991 Women's Africa Football Championship. The most successful team by far since then. If you have been keen enough to notice, you might ask why there are so few editions yet the first was so long ago. Simple answer, the first two competitions were held four years apart, in 1991 and 1995. Apart from being held biennially, the current competition has host nations. The first two editions were played at home sites of various teams, like most AFCON qualifiers. The competition format was then changed to its current organization. Previously, in 1991 there were only 4 participating teams, in 1995 only six teams took part, this was expanded to 8 teams in the reorganization. It has been held every two years since 1998 by a total of six countries. Nigeria and South Africa lead having hosted the competition thrice, in 1998, 2000 and 2002 for the former and in 2000, 2004 and 2010 in the latter. South Africa hosted both the Africa Cup of Nations Women’s football tournament and the World Cup in 2010, an impressive feat.
This is a long way from the time South Africa was banned from taking part in the competition due to its apartheid policies. It was not only a move made by the CAF to increasingly mount pressure on the government of South Africa to end their oppressive rule but also because the competition is meant to bring Africans closer through competition. South Africa was later also the cause of a violent confrontation between supporters and the match officials and Riot Police. During the 2000 AFCON womens final, South African supporters started hurling bottles at Nigerian players and match officials after the second goal against them was allowed. This forced the matched to be restarted thrice and later canceled. The tournament was awarded to Nigeria.
Equatorial Guinea has hosted the event twice in 2008 and in 2012. Interestingly, they went on to win both tournaments they hosted. The other fun fact is that these two competitions are the only ones that were not won by Nigeria. Nigeria has a total of 10 AFCON women championship titles and will be looking to bag yet another trophy this year. Aside from an impressive trophy cabinet is the fact that they lost only five games in over 20 years. Namibia and Cameroon have hosted the championship once in 2014 and 2016 respectively and finally; Ghana will host the CAF Women’s Championship 2018.
AWCON 2018 qualifiers
The AWCON qualifiers are open to all the 53 countries to participate, this excludes the hosts who get an automatic qualification. This year's qualifying draw had a total of 24 teams. These were then divided according to their ranking. This was to allow the organizers to come to allow a bye to the second round for the best ranked 4 teams for easy scheduling. The four teams include Nigeria, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, and South Africa. The remaining 20 teams were tied and played against each other both home and away. The winners then proceeded to the second round of competitions where they were drawn with the four teams left out of the first round. The seven teams that won the ties then joined the hosts for the tournament this year.
In case of a tie, the way goal rule is applied. If that is insufficient to get a clear winner then penalty shootouts are held. There is no extra time for this competition. The first round of the qualifiers took place early this year between 4th – 10th April.
The seven winners; Algeria, Mali, Nigeria, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, South Africa, and Zambia, from the second-round ties, will join Ghana in three days’ time for the Women AFCON 2018. AWCON Ghana qualifiers had some very dominant ties in the qualifiers making them some of the teams to watch out for. The most lethal of these teams being Cameroon, who defeated Congo by an impossible 10 goals to nil. They are a team to watch out for. The South African, Nigerian and Algerian sides also showed a lot of grit and determination in the qualifiers completely dominating their opponent for huge wins.
The hosts, Ghana are currently ranked 47th in the world according to FIFA Women’s World Rankings last year. This makes them the second team by rank in the competition. Before the final draw, the Confederation for African Football had banned Equatorial Guinea from the competition for fielding a player not eligible for the competition. They were replaced by Kenya and later reinstated after an approved appeal had the previous ruling overthrown. Kenya has filed it's complaints and appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport but the competition will proceed regardless.
Going into the Women AFCON 2018 as champions are Nigeria. They will be looking to extend their record further, having something to lose is going to keep them on their toes through the competition. The AWCON 2016 winners will also be hoping to go home with the individual awards as well, with the top scorer from the previous event coming from Nigeria as well with 6 goals to her name.
AWCON 2018 Draw
The final AWCON draw was held on 21st October at the Movenpick Ambassador Hotel in Accra, Ghana. The draw is fairly simple, the teams are divvied up into two groups of four. The hosts are seeded into slot A1 of Group A and the reigning champions are seeded into slot B1 of Group B. The remaining six teams are then put in two pots. They are seeded according to previous results in the tournament. The teams that remain are then drawn into the three empty slots in each group. The results for the draw are as shown below;
- South Africa
- Equatorial Guinea
The first Women’s AFCON fixtures will be the hosts, Ghana, against Algeria and later on the same day, 17th November, Mali will play Cameroon. Both matches will be at the Accra Sports Stadium.
The group stage has each group playing each other once and then the top two teams from each group go on to the knockout stage of the competition. In the Knockout stage, the runner-up from group A plays the winner of group B and the winner from group A plays the group B runner-up. The winners of the two ties go on to play in the final where are the other two teams play each other for the third position. The final, if it ends in a draw during regulation time, go on to extra time ad a penalty shoot-out if necessary. The third-place game goes directly to penalty shoot-outs in the case of a draw.
The Women’s AFCON winners, runner-up and second runner-up all qualify for the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup. This is an improvement in the allocation of slots to African teams from one in 1991 during the initial competition. It is hard to tell who will win but the clear favorites going into the Women AFCON 2018 are Nigeria who has dominated the competition for over a decade.
The official mascot for the AWCON 2018 was recently unveiled. The Agrohemaa is an eagle to represent courage, strength, and focus. The AWCON 2018 official song was released alongside the mascot unveiling. The AWCON 2018 song is of the same message as the ideals the Agrohemaa stands for. The latest AWCON news was accompanied by the launch of the official website for the competition.
The next attraction after the Women’s AWCON qualifiers earlier this year, was the AFCON 2019 qualifiers in which the Black Stars were having a hard time in their group stage matches. AFCON 2019 is a much larger competition with thrice as many teams and a longer qualification process. It is also part of the journey towards World Cup qualification. Despite the rocky start in the AFCON qualifiers, Ghana still remains a strong contender for qualification for the World Cup 2022.
The upcoming 2018 Total Women’s Africa Cup of Nations will bring a host of people to Ghana from participating nations all across Africa and is certain to be entertaining as well. The Black Queens will be looking to make a mark in the competition after previously being eliminated in the group stage of the previous championship. AWCON 2018 starts on 17th November and runs up to 1st December.
Fun fact; Did you know that there is a company called Afcons Infrastructure Ltd and it has nothing to do with AFCON? Now you know!
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