Grace Chingoma-Senior Sports Reporter
WOMEN’S football last league champions Black Rhinos Queens are missing in action as the CAF Women’s Champions League got underway in Durban, South Africa, on Sunday.
The 2019 Zimbabwean women’s football champions made history last year when they took part in the inaugural CAF Champions League qualifier which was played as the zonal COSAFA Women’s regional qualifier in Durban.
The Zimbabwean army side represented the country at last year’s edition by virtue of being the last team to win the local league title in 2019.
They were expected to represent the country again this year but were not able to do so due to Zimbabwe’s suspension from all international competitions by FIFA.
Black Rhinos Queens reached the final in Durban last year and lost 3-0 to Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies.
The South African club champions went on to represent the southern African region at the Champions League finals in Egypt and won the maiden women’s football champions league title.
This year, two tickets are on offer from the COSAFA region as Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies automatically qualified as the defending champions. Another team that wins the COSAFA qualifier or reaches the final should Sundowns Ladies retain the COSAFA zonal qualifier will also proceed to the finals that will be played in Morocco.
Zimbabwe’s absence will be felt in Durban after Black Rhinos Queens left a mark in last year’s tournament where they not only reached the finals but also had two individuals walking to the podium following outstanding performances.
Black Rhinos Queens had a good run at last year’s tournament where they defied the odds coming from long inactivity due to Covid-19. The Zimbabwean representatives beat Zambian outfit Green Buffaloes 2-0 and Namibian side TURA Magic 3-0 to proceed from their group.
They beat Botswana side Double Action 2-0 in the semi-finals to set up a final with the hosts’ side Sundowns Ladies.
However, Black Rhinos Queens will have to watch from the sidelines as the other six southern African region clubs fight for two slots in the CAF Women’s Champions League finals that will be held in Morocco later this year.
Last year, Mighty Warriors and Black Rhinos Queens forward Rutendo “Madzimai” Makore was named the Player of the Tournament while Queens’ goalkeeper Precious Mudyiwa won the Golden Glove.
The 2019 Zimbabwean champions, who were likely going to represent the country again this year, will miss the action as rivals Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies, who are in Group A take on Mozambique débutantes Costa do Sol and Double Action Ladies in Group A.
Green Buffaloes, who lost to Black Rhinos Queens last year, headline Group B, which also has Eswatini side Young Buffaloes and Comoros side Olympique de Moroni, who are making their debut.
Sundowns Ladies are favourites to win the zonal qualifier again this year. They began their campaign on a high note with an 8-1 demolition of Costa do Sol in the opening match. The team has some of the players who were part of the victorious Banyana Banyana that lifted their first ever Africa Women Cup of Nations trophy in Morocco.
Morocco, who are making great strides in women’s football, will open their doors to the continent again a few months after successfully staging the women’s version of the Africa Cup of Nations.
For now, Black Rhinos Queens will have to concentrate on the local league which is now at the halfway mark. The army side is currently second on the local league 14-team table with 36 points from 13 matches.
Log leaders Herentals have 37 points from 13 games. Chapungu are third with 33 points.
The top three teams are fighting for the league title and hope that next year one of them would be able to represent Zimbabwe in the CAF Champions League.
ZIFA and the Sports Commission are working on football restructuring and have given the committee that was appointed to revamp the structures to have completed their task by year-end.