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South Africa’s Bayana Bayana, Africa Queens at last!

BY: Rosalind K. Amoh

South Africa’s Bayana Bayana are the new champions of women’s football in Africa, beating Morocco 2-1 in the final of the 2022 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (WAFCON) in the final played in Rabat last Saturday, to bring the curtains down on the competition.

Two second half goals from Hildah Magaia who plies her trade with South Korea’s Sejong Sportstoto ensured that Bayana lifted the trophy for the first time after four unsuccessful attempts in the past and since their first attempt in 1998.

With record title holders, Nigeria, who the South Africans beat at the group stage at the competition in Morocco, out of contention, pundits tipped Bayana Bayana, runners-up at the last edition of the WAFCON, as having realistic chance of ending their search for continental glory.

The script had taken over 22 years to be written, the actors painstakingly taken their time, but when they finally showed up on the stage, they went all the way before taking the final bow, doing so with such consistency that it was difficult to predict something else.

Coming into this game, and from Group C, the South Africans had been unbeaten conquering Nigeria (2-1), Burundi (3-1) and Botswana 91-0) at the group stage, Tunisia (1-0) at the quarter-finals and Zambia (1-0) at the semi-finals.

The Morocco in Group A, also kept a winning record at least on their way to the final, with wins against Burkina Faso (1-0), Uganda (3-1) and Senegal (1-0) and went on to also beat Botswana (2-1), prevailed and sent Nigeria packing in their penalty kicks after their semi-finals game had travelled 120 minutes with a 1-1 result.

From their results, both had a problem with their defence as they could not keep absolute clean sheet and in the final, it was for the better tactician to take advantage of the other’s miscalculation as a former UEFA Champions League champion coach, Frenchman Reynald Pedros came up against a celebrated local woman, Desiree Ellis, who just two days before, had been honoured as Africa best coach for women’s football at the 2021 CAF Awards.

Having finished as runners up on four occasions and coming up against a side that had barely cut their teeth in the competition, the South Africans had mastered the art and on the night and against all odds – the almost 50,000 Moroccan fans and an unexplainable nine minutes of added time, the South Africans survived and laid claim to the glory they had dreamt of for years.

In the end, Coach Ellis, a player who endured heartbreak when she failed to lead her team to win the trophy on home soil in 2000 and as a coach, watched her dream snapped by Nigeria in the final 2018, showed just how much she had learnt the craft to become a better director, leading her charges to the historic feat of being only the third team, aside Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea to lift the coveted trophy and also claim the improved prize money of $500,000 dollars, in addition to the 2023 Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

On the night, with the star performer Thembi Kgatlana who had to take an early bow due to injury, Jermaine Seoposenwe who plays for Portugul’s Campeonato Nacional Feminino club SC Braga and Hildah Magaia rose to the occasion as the lead casts, the former providing both assists and the latter doing the needful, ensuring that the chance was buried and the ball placed past goalkeeper Khadija Er-Rmichi in the 61st and 73rd minutes for the goals needed to propel them to success and glory.

Like wounded lions, the Atlas Lionesses would not go down without a fight, Roselle Ayane helping them find their lost voices and attempting to roar back into the game when she pulled one back in the 80th minute, but that was how far their roar would reach as the Bayana Bayana, fighting like shepherd David against the Lion, held their advantage until the very end to take a befitting bow.

It has been long in coming, but like the proverbial phrase, every good thing worth having is worth fighting and waiting for and in Morocco 2022, that wait is finally over for South Africa and perhaps, from what was seen of the Moroccans, they will also take their place among the long list of teams that are still waiting to be crowned champions at another edition of WAFCON.

Zambia, also ensured they returned home with something to show for their efforts, beating former champions, Nigeria 1-0 in the third place match.