WAFCON 2022: Kgatlana relishing high-profile clash with Nigeria

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Thembi KgatlanaThembi Kgatlana was named player of the tournament at the 2018 WAFCON

South Africa striker Thembi Kgatlana says Monday's Women's Africa Cup of Nations (WAFCON) match against reigning champions Nigeria will provide a major boost for women's football in Africa.

The finalists at the last WAFCON both begin their Group C campaigns in Rabat on Monday when facing one another in a repeat of the last final, in 2018.

As so often before, Nigeria's Super Falcons won that match, albeit needing a penalty shoot-out to do so, to clinch the title, their ninth overall.

With a host of stars in action, such as Nigeria's Asisat Oshoala and Kgatlana, who plays for Atletico Madrid, the 26-year-old believes Monday's match will be a showpiece event.

"It's good for women's football because even outside Africa, we know a lot of people are going to be watching that match," Kgatlana told BBC Sport Africa.

"We have a lot of players in Nigeria playing in Atleti and in Barcelona, and in South Africa we have players in AC Milan and in a lot of big leagues, so it's going to be attracting a lot of attention.

"It's going to create a good impact on women's football, not only in Africa, but in the world as well. I think that's what we need for African women's football."

Tall order

South AfricaSouth Africa have lost four WAFCON finals - two apiece to Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea

Both top scorer and player of the tournament at the WAFCON in 2018, a year when she was named the African Football's women's player of the year, Kgatlana is aware of the challenge presented by Monday's opponents.

Nigeria have won a record nine titles since the WAFCON began in 1998, with South Africa having lost four finals - including two to the Super Falcons themselves.

The teams met at this stage of the 2018 tournament, with South Africa gaining a rare victory over their opponents, who avenged that defeat in the final in the Ghanaian capital Accra.

"It's going to be a big bite to chew," said Kgatlana when asked if South Africa can win it.

"We cannot avoid the fact that Nigeria are the reigning champions and they've experience when it comes to this tournament.

"Nigeria have proved to be the top team and I don't recall any other [African] country beating Nigeria, besides South Africa.

"To play the first match, everyone knows that that's going to be a highly-anticipated match."

South Africa inflicted defeat on the Super Falcons in last year's Aisha Buhari Cup in Nigeria, winning 4-2, in a result that can boost the team's confidence, even if coach Desiree Ellis played down its importance on Sunday when saying it counted for little.

Development boost

Kgatlana believes that the West Africans, who have won all but two of the WAFCONS ever played (in 2008 and 2012), have benefited from sending many players to Under-17 and Under-20 World Cups.

"I think if a lot of countries can work on doing this, this model would be the perfect one to help senior teams."

In 2019, South Africa launched a new women's league - with a major sponsor - which Kgatlana believes will greatly develop the next generation of footballers in her country.

"Having the league is helping us because the problem we had before was that we had a couple of players playing in Europe - playing at a top level and so being mentally-built - but then the struggle was the gap to the local players.

"The local based players did not have proper training every day, did not play week in week out, so didn't know what it takes to play at the top level.

"For them now to have the league to travel every weekend and put a lot of emphasis on playing football builds mentality - I don't think we are in a place where we need to fear anything more."

"This is the most confident I've been in women's football in South Africa."

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