Zambia and Senegal enter unchartered territory on Wednesday night when they clash in the quarter-finals of the women’s Africa Cup of Nations in Casablanca.
Neither side has played in a semi-final at the competition and neither side has featured in a World Cup.
Both prizes will be on offer at the Stade Mohamed V.
With the 20222 Cup of Nations tournament being used as the qualifying competition for next’s year’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, the four semi-finalists will receive an automatic slot at the 32- team fest.
Even defeat in the last eight could lead to a berth in the antipodes. The losers on Wednesday and Thursday will play in a repechage and the winners of the one-off match will collect an intercontinental play-off place.
Zambia coach Bruce Mwape said his side would go into Wednesday night’s game in an upbeat mood following two victories that took them to the top of Group B with seven points.
“The team has been working hard,” said Mwape on the eve of the match. “They’ve managed to create chances in the last couple of games and with that in mind we should be able to do well as we are showing the consistency that’s needed in our team.”
“This quarter-final is the match of my life because it is a qualifier for the World Cup,” said Senegal skipper Safietou Sagna.
Qualification for the World Cup would add lustre to the women’s team who have been eclipsed by the men’s side who have participated regularly at the Cup of Nations as well as at World Cups in 2002 and 2018.
Aliou Cissé’s team, which was eliminated on the fair play rule in Russia four years ago, will be in Qatar in November on the back of their success at the Cup of Nations in Cameroon in February.
“We know we have the potential to get to the World Cup,” said striker Ndeye Awa Diakhaté. “Our team has grown and we have worked hard for that. So, why not take the Cup of Nations back to Senegal, like the boys?”
Such symmetry would be spectacular. It would create a dazzling narrative to terminate the first women’s Cup of Nations tournament to be held in North Africa.
But, according to Senegal coach Mame Moussa Cissé, a formidable hurdle blocks the path to glory.
“We must take the Zambians very seriously,” he said. “They came out on top of a group in which there were Cameroon and Tunisia, two teams that we played in preparation matches.
“Their team has a lot of value collectively, especially in terms of commitment and solidarity.”
Despite the praise and expectation surrounding the Zambians, goalkeeper Hazel Nali said complacency would not erod the resolve of the team.
“Women’s football has really improved. There haven’t really been any underdogs among the teams that have been playing in the tournament.
“The football on the continent has been developing and that’s been good for everyone.”