The African women’s soccer championship kicks off on Saturday with eight teams vying to represent the continent in next summer’s International Soccer Federation (FIFA) tournament in Canada.
Six-time champions Nigeria is in the same group with host country Namibia, Zambia and Ivory Coast, while three-time runner-up South Africa – which lost 4-0 to Equatorial Guinea in the 2012 final – is in the other cluster with Cameroon, Algeria and Ghana.
The top three teams in the tournament that runs up until October 25 will be Africa’s representatives in Canada.
Equatorial Guinea became the first defending champion to miss the following competition.
A total of 24 teams will compete in the global tournament’s seventh edition.
Australia, China, Japan, Korea Republic, Thailand, England, France, Germany, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Brazil and Colombia have booked their spots for the World Cup, which runs from June 6 to July 5.
The Confederation of North, Central American & Caribbean Associations of Soccer (CONCACAF) representatives will be decided after the regional championship in four American cities – Philadelphia, Washington, Kansas City and Chicago – from October 15-26.
The participants are the United States, Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Haiti, Jamaica, Martinique and Trinidad & Tobago.
The top three teams will advance while the fourth-place team will meet Ecuador – which finished third in the South American Soccer Federation qualifying series – in a playoff for a World Cup ticket.
The winner of a four-team playoff featuring Italy, The Netherlands, Scotland and Ukraine from October 25-27 will secure Europe’s final spot while the winner of the Oceania four-team qualifying tournament to be held from October 25-29 in Papua New Guinea will round out the field.
The contestants are defending regional champion New Zealand, Cook Islands, Tonga and Papua New Guinea.
Meanwhile, FIFA president Sepp Blatter has endorsed new Nigeria Soccer Federation president Amaju Pinnick, who was elected last week.
“Your knowledge and experience will certainly have an important impact on the stable development of our beautiful game in your country,” said Blatter, who is seeking a fifth term as FIFA president. “You can rely on my personal support and FIFA’s assistance in order to reach this goal. The doors of FIFA are open whenever you wish to discuss any relevant issues concerning the game and its governance.”
Pinnick, who is the Delta Sports Commission chair, secured 32 of 44 votes in a second round of voting. His rivals were Dominic Iorfa and Taiwo Ojunjobi.
By Ron Fanfair