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Women’s football takes centre stage

The Brave Gladiators may not be at the 2023 Fifa Women’s World Cup, but there is no shortage of interest in the tournament along our shores.

The much-anticipated global spectacular, the first Women’s World Cup to feature 32 teams, kicked off in Australia and New Zealand yesterday.

Not surprisingly, most of Namibia’s interest centres around the four African representatives at the World Cup, two of whom are from southern Africa.

African champions Banyana Banyana of South Africa and Zambia’s Copper Queens, who also go by the moniker of ‘Shepolopolo’, carry Cosafa’s hopes of making their presence felt among the world’s best sides.

Banyana kick off their second campaign on Sunday, before facing Argentina next Friday and Italy on 2 August.

Zambia take their bow against 2011 world champions Japan tomorrow, after which they take on Spain and conclude the group stage with a clash against Costa Rica.

For ex-Brave Gladiators skipper Stacey Naris, World Cup fever has well and truly taken hold.

“I am absolutely excited about the tournament, more especially about Zambia. Definitely rooting for them in this tournament, with Barbra Banda being their star player and someone I played against. I really wish them all the best,” she says.

The month-long tournament has expanded from the 24-team event at the last edition in France four years ago and is being staged in two different countries for the first time – in nine cities across Australia and New Zealand.

“Going into this tournament as underdogs and most probably being underestimated should also give them [Zambia] the upper hand.

“I am excited to see how far they will go in the tournament. Just being there, they have made history, and I can’t wait to see the rest. This is the most unpredictable stage and nothing is impossible,” Naris says.

There will also be a keen eye on the performance of Morocco, who will face the Brave Gladiators in the 2024 Olympic Games qualification in September.

The Atlas Lionesses have displayed a rapid development in international football, punctuated by finishing runners-up at last year’s Women’s Afcon, which secured a World Cup spot.

The Super Falcons of Nigeria, who have been to every previous tournament, were due to take on Olympic Games gold medallists Canada earlier today.

Like South Africa, an unresolved row over bonuses has tainted their preparations.

On Thursday, Nigeria will face Australia, who beat the Republic of Ireland 1-0 in their opener yesterday, and the Irish in their last group game on 31 July.

Unam Bokkies star Tao Afrikaner hopes her favourite side, Banyana Banyana, will shake off the bad vibes and put on a good show.

She also feels the United States (US) have the potential to capture their third successive World Cup title.

“Well, I am gunning for the US, although Germany is going to give them a very tough time. My African team will be South Africa, and I’m really hoping they make it till the semis.

“My favourite player is Megan Rapinoe. I just love that woman and her abilities. I am really looking forward to the tournament and can’t wait for the kick-off as we watch our women battle it out for the title,” she says.

Co-hosts New Zealand and Australia got the tournament off to a rousing start with mirror 1-0 successes yesterday.

On a memorable night in Auckland, the Football Ferns produced a huge upset after Hannah Wilkinson swept home Jacqui Hand’s cross in front of an ecstatic crowd of 42 137 at Eden Park – a record for a football match in New Zealand.

Ria Percival’s 89th-minute missed penalty, after a handball by Tuva Hansen, failed to dampen the celebrations of victory over 1995 world champions Norway and a first-ever World Cup win at the 16th attempt.

Stand-in skipper Steph Catley’s 52nd-minute penalty gave World Cup co-hosts Australia a 1-0 victory over debutants the Republic of Ireland in Sydney.