• Despite the eliminations in the Round of 16, it was still a great outing for Africa
Africa’s journey at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup ended at the Round of 16, where South Africa, Nigeria and Morocco all exited the tournament.
South Africa put in a gallant performance against the Netherlands but lost 2-0, while Nigeria came close to stunning European champions England before losing 4-2 on post-match penalties after a goalless draw in regulation time. Morocco also went home after suffering a 4-0 defeat in their match with France.
Despite the eliminations, however, it was still a great outing for Africa, which had three teams in the knockout round for the first time, while a number of players loudly announced their arrival on the grand stage.
MICHELLE ALOZIE: The American-born defender was one of the stars of the tournament, with her performance at right back key to Nigeria's three clean sheets in four matches.
A no-nonsense defender who enjoys getting in the face of her opponents, she was so good in the Round of 16 tie that she frustrated Lauren James, England’s best player at the tournament, leading to the forward stamping on her, an incident that earned the Englishwoman a red card.
Alozie also made light work of Canada, where she put in five important tackles while winning three aerial duels, and the Republic of Ireland, as Nigeria recorded barren draws ahead of her impressive performance in the knockout round. She was not just great in defence but was also a threat in attack, coming close to breaking the deadlock against England not once but twice.
Currently playing for Houston Dash in the United States of America, it won’t be long before a top side comes calling.
CHIAMAKA NNADOZIE: Nigeria would not have made it past their group were it not for their mercurial goalkeeper, Chiamaka Nnadozie.
The Paris FC shot-stopper announced her arrival at the tournament by producing three stunning saves in the opening match against Canada, including a penalty, which earned the Super Falcons a point that set them on their way to topping their group. She followed this up with six saves against co-hosts Australia in a match Nigeria won 3-2.
Without Nnadozie’s saves, Nigeria would have suffered an early elimination, but she kept her side in the game until they found the goals they needed to win the match.
The 22-year-old was at it again in Nigeria’s third group match against the Republic of Ireland, when she made four saves as the Super Falcons stood firm.
She saved the best for last as during the Round of 16 meeting against England, she made four great saves, including two close range headers from Rachel Daly and Alessia Russo, that almost gave England the breakthrough with only the lottery of post-match penalties proving tough for her.
Nnadozie signed a new contract in April, tying her to Paris FC until June 2025, but even the French club know that after such a display, it will be so hard to keep her until then.
THEMBI KGATLANA: Fearless, electric and direct, South Africa captain Thembi Kgatlana was a joy to watch at the tournament as she tormented defenders with her skills and pace.
Kgatlana was key to South Africa scoring their first-ever goal at the World Cup, winning their maiden match and reaching the Round of 16 for the first time. She set up Hildah Magaia for Banyana Banyana’s goal against Sweden, when they almost drew before losing 2-1, and scored the equaliser when they drew 2-2 with Argentina to revive their hopes of going past the group.
The 27-year-old then scored the winner for South Africa when they beat Italy 3-2 to advance to the Round of 16, where they met the Netherlands. After the win, she revealed she had lost three family members before the match but opted to stay at the tournament.
She proved just how good she is against the Dutch. While she did not score, Kgatlana forced Dutch goalkeeper Daphne van Domselaar into four top saves as she looked unstoppable once she had the ball.
She easily cut through the Dutch defence and the team built on possession and control could do nothing to stop her. Kgatlana currently plays for Racing Louisville FC in the US, but few will be surprised if she makes a move to one of the famed giants of football soon.
IBTISSAM JRAïDI: Morocco captain Ghizlane Chebbak may have been the star heading into the tournament, but Ibtissam Jraïdi turned heads with her performance in New Zealand and Australia.
After their 6-0 thrashing by Germany, the Atlas Lionesses looked like they were heading for an early elimination from their maiden World Cup but they produced a great comeback to win 1-0 against both South Korea and Colombia to advance to the knockout round.
Jraïdi was instrumental in both wins as she scored the winner against South Korea before winning the penalty that led to Morocco’s goal against Colombia.
Playing in a twin attack alongside Anissa Lahmari, the Al Ahli Saudi forward troubled defences with her clever runs in the box, creating space for her teammates to attack, as Morocco made a statement in what was their first World Cup.
At 30, age might not be on her side, but she will not be short of suitors after her remarkable performance at the 2023 tournament.