CAF Champions League showcased growth of women’s soccer

Sport is just another form of entertainment. Similarly to all the outlets that humans use to temporarily disengage from reality, it is important for sport to constantly evolve to keep the product sustainable and appealing to the masses.

If the type of soccer on display at the recently concluded CAF Women’s Champions League is a barometer of the future of women’s soccer on the continent, it is bright.

Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies led the way with the silky and fluid play that saw them reach a third consecutive final in the continental club competition, which was also being played for a third season since its inception in 2021. 

caf champions league mamelodi

Andile Dlamini of Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies instructs teammates during the 2023 CAF Women‘s Champions League final on 19 November 2023.(Photo: Samuel Shivambu / BackpagePix)

Banyana Ba Style brushed aside Morocco’s Sporting Casablanca 3-0 in the final, which was played in front of a decent crowd at the Amadou Gon Coulibaly Stadium in Korhogo, Ivory Coast.

With that emphatic victory, courtesy of a brace by tournament top scorer Refilwe Tholakele and a strike by playmaker Boitumelo Rabale, Sundowns took their Champions League title haul to two from three tournaments. In the 2022 decider, they were upstaged 4-0 by this season’s bronze medallists – Asfar of Morocco.

Giant strides

In the Ivory Coast-hosted third edition, the serial South African champions were flawless. Sundowns won all five of their games at the showpiece without conceding a goal and scoring 10 in the process.

“Women’s football is growing in leaps and bounds and if we invest, we will reap the rewards,” said Sundowns’ winning coach Jerry Tshabalala.

“It is a testament to the talent and dedication of these players that they have achieved so much. But for the sport to continue thriving, we must allocate more resources, provide better facilities and create more opportunities for women and girls who aspire to excel in football,” the coach said.

“This victory is just the beginning and with the right support, African women’s football can reach even greater heights.”

caf champions league mamelodi

Boitumelo Rabale of Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies is tackled by Chaymaa Mourtaji of Sporting Casablanca on 19 November 2023. (Photo: Samuel Shivambu / BackpagePix)

As it stands, the women’s game continues to play catch-up to the men’s game professionally, in terms of overall appeal as a commercial product, exposure and marketing. And, of course, financially.

Nevertheless, giant strides continue to be made. As evidenced by the respective continental competitions that took place in 2022. Including the European Championships, as well as the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (Wafcon).

The cherry on top concerning gains made came in the form of a spectacular Fifa Women’s World Cup, which took place in Australia and New Zealand midway through 2023. That tournament was a success financially, in terms of support and the action on the pitch.

Competitions such as this fledgling Champions League will certainly play a crucial role in continuing the steady growth of the women’s game that has shone through over the past few years.

This is especially because the players are not merely exposed to the same challenges they encounter weekly when playing in their respective domestic leagues. Continentally, the expectations are higher. The prestige is sky-high. It is also a taste of the demands and tempo required to be successful in a national team setup.

It is by no coincidence that there were some key Sundowns players as Banyana Banyana made their historic foray into the World Cup knockout stages or when they won the Wafcon in 2022.

caf champions league mamelodi

Refilwe Tholakele of Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies celebrates scoring a penalty during the 2023 CAF Women‘s Champions League final against Sporting Casablanca at Amadou Gon Coulibaly Stadium in Korhogo, Ivory Coast on 19 November 2023 (Photo: Samuel Shivambu / BackpagePix)

Players such as Bambanani Mbane, Karabo Dhlamini and Andile Dlamini have been integral to Masandawana’s continental success since the launching of the Champions League. They have carried that winning spirit into the national team.

So, what next to further boost the quality of women’s soccer, not just in Africa, but globally? Sundowns’ coach Tshabalala has a vision.  

“We’ve won two [Champions Leagues now]. We want to keep on doing well. But now we’re hoping that soon Fifa can just say, “Here is a Club World Cup.” That’s a bigger vision for us,” Tshabalala told journalists. World soccer’s governing body Fifa has previously mentioned plans for a women’s Club World Cup, where the best teams from the continent square off to be crowned world champions. 

Just when this concept will become a reality remains unclear. But when it is implemented, it will be another step in the right direction towards keeping soccer as an outstanding form of entertainment. DM

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