Banyana Banyana are queens of the kingdom again as COSAFA stages successful Women Championships
Council of Southern African Football Associations president Philip Chiyangwa says Zimbabwe’s successful hosting of the 2017 COSAFA Senior Women Championships is another powerful demonstration of the region’s capacity to stage major tournaments like the African Nations Cup finals.
The tournament had taken a sabbatical for six years, after having last been held in Zimbabwe in 2011, but bounced back in spectacular fashion this year with an unforgettable show which featured a dozen teams in the country’s second biggest city Bulawayo.
The grand final, a repeat of the 2011 edition in which the Mighty Warriors of Zimbabwe battled their biggest rivals Banyana Banyana of South Africa, attracted probably the biggest crowd to witness a women’s football match on the continent.
An estimated 30,000 fans poured into Barbourfields for the decisive match last Sunday, painting the old stadium into a sea of gold, green and white colours and the two teams responded with an explosive show that produced three goals.
The South Africans, the most powerful force in women’s football in the region, recaptured the crown they lost to their Zimbabwean counterparts in 2011 by beating the Mighty Warriors 2-1 in the final with the winning goal coming from the last kick of the game.
Zimbabwe had thrashed guest nation Kenya, who punched above their weight in this tournament with a run that took them to the semi-finals, 4-0 in their last four match at Barbourfields before another huge crowd which inspired the host nation to victory.
The South Africans needed a very late rally, somehow finding life where many would have given up, to erase a three-goal deficit and force their game against Zambia into a penalty shootout.
Banyana Banyana, buoyed by their incredible comeback, were the better team on the lottery as they dumped Zambia out of the tournament in one of the best games at the two-week football festival that produced sights and sounds that left a huge impression.
Although his team, the Mighty Warriors, lost the grand finale, COSAFA president Chiyangwa, who is also the ZIFA boss, said the tournament was more than just about winners and losers but one that left a huge impression on the region’s ability to organise major sporting events.
“Congratulations to South Africa, my brother Danny Jordaan and his crew for this victory and tough luck to the Mighty Warriors who gave as much as they got in a final that was a befitting end to a very successful tournament,” said Chiyangwa.
“We witnessed some remarkable football in the last two weeks and every player who went into the field was a credit to her nation as they gave it their all in flying their country’s flags.
“Our guests Kenya proved they were one of the best teams and they played football at a very high level and we need to salute them for coming down here to add to the excitement of the last two weeks because it’s such co-operational between regions that can take African football forward.
“The final produced a blockbuster of a match, which is usually the case when Zimbabwe and South Africa play each other, and that it was decided in the last minute showed the quality of the contest and the thrills produced on the afternoon.
“We are happy that we showcased the quality and beauty of women football, an area which FIFA are working hard to improve, and we showed that it wasn’t a fluke that our region sent the two African teams that represented Africa at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil last year.”
Chiyangwa said the successful organisation of such a tournament once again showed that COSAFA can host major football tournaments like the AFCON finals.
“If we can get those big crowds into the stadiums to watch women football, imagine what we can do if it is men football and these are bigger tournaments like AFCON?” Chiyangwa said.
“We showed that we have the organisational qualities to do that, to host such big tournaments in any country in our region.
“Remember Zambia also hosted a very successful AFCON Under-20 tournament recently and now this COSAFA Women Championships in Zimbabwe while South Africa also hosted a very successful COSAFA Senior Men Championships which the Warriors of Zimbabwe won.
“Mauritius showed that even the smaller countries in our region can host successful tournaments as they also did well when they staged the COSAFA Under-17 Championships this year.
“We are a region that is on the move, in terms of development, and we are ready for the bigger events because we have got the expertise to ensure that we make it a success.”
Zimbabwean sharp-shooter Rutendo Makore was the undoubted star of the tournament as she scored 10 goals in the five matches she played for her country in Bulawayo at an average of two goals per game.
She became the first Zimbabwean to score 10 goals at a major football finals after eclipsing the record of eight goals which former Mighty Warriors striker Rufaro Machingura scored at a similar tournament.
“She is the new golden girl of Zimbabwe women football after injury ruled the game’s poster girl Rudo Neshamba from the tournament,” Zimbabwe’s leading football pundit Charles Mabika told The Southern Times.
“She is a no nonsense striker, a bit old fashioned but very lethal and give her a yard and she will see a mile and take full advantage.
“She scored in every game at the tournament and that’s a big story on its own and it’s a pity that she couldn’t drag her team to the title but you can’t fault her for trying because in the final she scored again.
“Football is a game of heroes and she provided this tournament with its heroine and she can go places if she keeps her feet on the ground.”
Banyana Banyana took the gold, because they were the best team, even when they had their backs to the walls as was the case in that game against the Zambians in the semis when they trailed by three goals deep into the second half.
The Kenyans took the Fair Play award for the way they added value to this tournament and finished fourth after a penalty shootout loss to Zambia in the third place play-off.
After a six-year disappearance from the radar,this tournament could not have chosen a better way to announce its return.