The establishment of a Women’s African Champions League is the “best move ever”, according to one participating captain.
Created last year by the Confederation of African Football (Caf), the inaugural tournament, involving eight teams, begins in Egypt on Friday and lasts until 19 November.
“There are many hidden talents in Africa and this will be a bigger platform to showcase the talent,” Enez Mango of Kenyan side Vihiga Queens told BBC Sport Africa.
“Most players whose dreams have been to play in Europe or other countries will get this opportunity. I think it is the best move ever.”
The eight teams have been drawn into two groups, with the top two qualifying for the semi-finals.
Given the sides are not well-known to each other or the wider public, some teams have been doing their best to learn as much as possible about their future rivals.
“We have been watching our opponents during their qualifying matches and during their national team assignments, as most play for their national teams,” Mango added.
“There is going to be a challenge there, but we are up to the task.”
The competition will be staged at two grounds in Cairo, the 30 June Stadium and the Military Academy Stadium.
Increased visibility for women’s game
Isha Johansen, the vice-president of Caf women’s football organizing committee, told BBC Sport Africa “a dream is being realised” with the maiden competition.
“One of the key aims of the Caf women’s strategy was to strengthen and develop the women’s game,” Johansen, who also sits on the Fifa council, said.
“The stronger the leagues and the clubs are, the better players you are able to produce.
“A Champions League representing the continent means more quality players can be showcased on an international level. That is the aim – that our female players get more visibility.”
Amaju Pinnock, the president of the Nigerian Football Federation and another Fifa Council members, says the women’s game has “come to stay”.
“We are happy in Africa that we are able to bring this, like they are doing in Uefa and other confederations,” he told the BBC.
“Our women are now globally or continentally recognised, and this Caf Champions League is going to be highly competed for.”
Johansen hopes the tournament will provides a boost for women in all walks of life across the continent.
“This is not just a win for women’s football in Africa, it is a win for gender empowerment and inclusivity in all areas and levels, particularly in male-dominated industries,” she said.
“My hope and prayer is that our women in football in Africa will rise to the occasion and promote the game by strengthening their local leagues.”
The contenders – Group A
Wadi Degla (Egypt): Formed in 2007 by the Cairo-based club, they boast a record 12 Egyptian league titles and have won the past 11 in a row.
AS Mande (Mali): The product of mergers of four different clubs and attached to the men’s team of the same name based in Bamako, AS Mande have won both national league titles contested in Mali since 2017.
Malabo Kings (Equatorial Guinea): An offshoot of the Equatorial Guinean basketball team of the same name, the club won the national championship and two cup competitions in 2019, its first year in existence.
Hasaacas Ladies (Ghana): Coached by Yusif Basigi since its foundation in 2003 and the most successful women’s club in Ghana, Hasaacas completed a Premier League and FA Cup double this year.
AS FAR (Morocco): The Royal Armed Forces club joined the Moroccan top flight in 2008 and have lifted the championship in eight of the past nine seasons.
Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies (South Africa): Established in 2009 and winners of the inaugural South African Women’s Soccer League last year, Sundowns Ladies also have two other national league trophies to their name.
Rivers Angels (Nigeria): Founded in 1986 and title-winners in Nigeria six times since 2010, Barcelona forward Asisat Oshoala is among the club’s former players.
Vihiga Queens (Kenya): The western Kenyan side, established in the third tier in 2014, are three-time league champions but missed out on the title this season in the play-off stage.