Defending champions Nigeria face a test of their mettle on Thursday night in Rabat when they take on Botswana in their second pool match at the women’s Africa Cup of Nations.
Nigeria lost their opening Group C game to South Africa 2-1, while Botswana swept past Burundi 4-2 to take early control of the group.
Defeat could mean a shock early elimination for a nation that has won 11 of the 13 women’s Cup of Nations tournaments.
Apart from the opening defeat, Randy Waldrum’s team suffered another blow with the departure of star striker Asisat Oshoala eight minutes from time.
Tests later showed the 27-year-old Barcelona forward had ruptured a knee ligament and will miss the rest of the tournament.
Waldrum attempted to minimise the loss of the four-time African Player of the Year.
“The good thing for us is that we have a lot of great players,” he said. “We are looking forward to the next game.”
Botswana head coach Gaoletlhoo Nkutlwisang said her team, ranked at 152 in the world, was relishing the prospect of potentially dispatching Nigeria who are Africa’s top-ranked team.
“We fancy a good challenge,” said Nkutlwisang. “One thing for me as a coach, I want to play against the big coaches and for the team, we want to face the best. That motivates us so we will go out there and show who we are as Botswana.”
South Africa will qualify for the quarter-finals if they beat Burundi who have the lowest average age of players at the tournament: 20 years and five months.
“It’s a choice for our country,” said coach Gustave Niyonkuru. “We are preparing for the future. It is our first time at the tournament. It allows us to test young players to prepare them for future events.”
On Wednesday night, Zambia moved to the top of Group B following a last-gasp victory over Tunisia.
Avell Chitundu slotted past Tunisia goalkeeper Soulaime Jaabrani in second-half stoppage time after latching onto Grace Chanda’s slick pass.
The strike saved the blushes of her teammate Ochumba Oseke Lubandji who missed a spot kick in the first-half.
“I think we played better against Tunisia than we did against Cameroon,” said Zambia boss Bruce Mwepa. “We created a lot of opportunities in both the first and second half. I’m certainly happy that we defended well. I am very happy with the result.”
Mwepa refused to be drawn on the row over star striker Barbra Banda. The 22-year-old was excluded from the tournament after failing a gender test.
Zambia’s 1-0 win gives them four points, one more than Tunisia. Cameroon have two points following their 1-1 draw with Togo on Wednesday night in Casablanca.
Qualification from the pool remains wide open ahead of the final round of ties on Saturday night in which Tunisia take on Cameroon in Casablanca while Zambia face Togo in Rabat.
Togo coach Kai Komety said her players would be inspired for the match after claiming the country’s first point at a Cup of Nations tournament.
“Our first time in the competition and a draw against Cameroon, I would say that it is historic. Cameroon is a very experienced country, a country used to the CAN.
Komety added: “The players have taken up the challenge and I am very happy. I think they will continue in the same vein against Zambia.”