CAF Women’s Champions League sees surge in debutant clubs

Cousso Esparance Agbo of Athletico Abidjan celebrates goal with teammates during the 2023 CAF Womens Champions League match between Athletico Abidjan and Sporting Club Casablanca at Amadou Gon Coulibaly Stadium in Korhogo on 05 November 2023 ©Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

A clutch of exciting new entries into the CAF Champions League, Africa’s premier women’s club competition, demonstrates the huge potential of women’s football on the continent and highlights a sudden increase in investment into women’s football.

Bonface Orucho, bird story agency

The upcoming CAF Women’s Champions League will feature an impressive five debutant clubs out of the eight competing, underscoring its growing nature and the dynamic opportunity it is availing to women footballers on the continent.

The tournament, which is Africa’s premier women’s club competition, will be held in Ivory Coast between November 5 and 19, in the cities of Korhogo and San Pedro, and will feature five first-time participating teams and only three returning teams.

It is a critical moment for women’s football with this competition being held in sub-Saharan Africa for the first time, the past two editions having been hosted in Egypt and Morocco, respectively.

The tournament, which is also being touted as a test of Ivory Coast’s capacity and ability to host the 2024 men’s AFCON, is expected to be full of football action, this time from female football stars, with the best club footballers in Africa promising to put on a spectacular show, fighting for the crown of the best women’s club football team in the continent.

Each of the six sub-confederations of CAF—COSAFA (Southern Africa), CECAFA (East Africa), UNAF (North Africa), UNIFFAC (Central Africa), WAFU Zone A (West Africa), and WAFU Zone B (West Africa)—contributes to the tournament with a member association each. The hosting country and defending champions also get automatic spots.

Therefore, eight clubs will participate in this year’s edition, including two previous winners: AS FAR from Morocco, who are the reigning champions and will be making their third participation, while South Africa’s Mamelodi Sundowns, the winners of the inaugural edition, will be seeking to reclaim the coveted title.

Notably, however, this year’s edition is filled with debutant teams, a testament to the many underlying efforts being put into building capacity around amateur teams and tapping raw female talent.

Huracanes FC from Equatorial Guinea, for instance, are keen to clinch the coveted trophy. With two wins, six points, and eight goals from their qualifying league, they have defied all odds to be crowned the queens of the Union of Football Federations of Central Africa Zone.

Apart from posing significant winning potential in this league, key names from the team, such as Elena Obono, are expected to display great performances. Obono is currently the ‘Best Player’ of the Union of Football Federation of Central Africa in the qualifying tournament, where she was also the top scorer. They, however, find themselves in a tough Group A alongside AS Mandel, Ampem Darkoa, and the ASFAR Club.

JKT Queens from Tanzania, another new entrant in this competition, put on a spirited fight against Ethiopia Commercial Bank, winning in the penalty shootouts during the CECAFA regional qualifiers after a goalless full-time match including extra time. This makes them stand out as a resilient team able to withstand pressure and secure a win regardless of the opponent.

The Ghanaian side, Ampem Darkoa, will also be seeking this title in its maiden attempt at the tournament. This is especially pressing considering that in the inaugural 2021 edition, Hasaacas, a Ghanaian club, made it to the finals despite losing 2-0 to Mamelodi Sundowns.

However, apart from debutants, established teams such as Morocco’s ASFAR Club will be in the mix, bringing on their dreaded skills and experience in the competition alongside two-time contenders AS Mande of Mali and South Africa’s Mamelodi Sundowns.

Perhaps the greatest pressure is mounting on the home team, Athletic Abidjan, who will be keen to leverage their home advantage to win. This is the Ivorians’ first participation in the CAF Women’s Champions League, but their unbeaten domestic league record of 17 victories and a draw makes them a threat in the competition.

The Women’s Champions League, launched in June 2020 by CAF, was part of the confederation’s strategic plan to grow women’s football on the continent, especially by increasing more women-focused competitions.

The past two successful competitions and an upcoming third edition build a robust portfolio for the Confederation of African Football, illuminating its commitment to growing the sport that was once male-focused.

The results of this growth are already being witnessed, bringing bountiful opportunities for women footballers. Today, some female professional football players from the continent are pushing their way into the multi-million-dollar football transfer market.

The September 2023 FIFA’s International Transfer Snapshot report, a provisional report on transfers made in the July–September transfer window, shows 66 transfers involving female players were made into the continent, while 89 players from Africa left to play professional football outside the continent. This translates to 50% and 31% growth, respectively.

Nigerian forward Ngozi Sonia Okobi-Okeoghene for instance, completed her switch to Spanish Liga F club Levante Las Planas for the remainder of the season this year, while Malawian Tabitha Chawinga secured a spot at Paris Saint-Germain. The 27-year-old made history in May when she became the first African female player to be a top scorer in the Italian Serie A league while playing for Nerazzurri.

Off the pitch, the whole women’s football ecosystem is in growth gear. A 2023 report by CAF on ‘Women’s Football Landscape’ shows there are more than 150,000 registered players, more than 4000 female coaches, and close to 5000 female referees registered under CAF.

“The data show that these players are young, with more than 70% of them being under 20 years old. There is also a great improvement in our member associations in terms of the commitment of women’s U-20 and U-17 teams,” CAF Head of Women’s Football, Meskerem Tadesse Goshime, stated during the report launch that happened in April.

The CAF report shows that 47 out of 54 countries on the continent are fielding women’s national teams.

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