Tadious Manyepo in YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon
WARRIORS coach Norman Mapeza says the historic move by the Confederation of African Football to deploy a female referee in Zimbabwe’s last game of the African Cup of Nations on Tuesday evening is a step in the right direction.
The Warriors became the first team to be eliminated from the fiesta after just two games but they were part of the watershed moment after seeing their dead-rubber tie against Guinea being officiated by Rwandese female referee, Salima Mukansanga.
Mukansanga became the first ever female official to take the centre refereeing post in the history of this biennial football competition.
And Zimbabwe responded to the epoch with a 2-1 victory over Guinea who, despite the defeat, progressed to the last 16 nevertheless.
Knowledge Musona’s downward header and Kudakwashe Mahachi’s low strike put the Warriors two up at half-time.
Guinea captain Naby Keita replied with a stunning goal in Yaounde, in a match which saw referee Mukansanga make history.
The Rwandan (35) became the first woman to referee a Nations Cup game.
Mukansanga, is one of four female officials at this year’s Nations Cup, showed six yellow cards in total but, having previously refereed at the Tokyo Olympics last year, looked assured throughout her landmark outing in the Stade Ahmadou Ahidjo.
Mukansanga created history after the previous 32 editions of the flagship African tournament from 1957 were refereed exclusively by men.
Previously the Rwandan was the fourth official when Guinea defeated Malawi in another Group B match on January 10 in Bafoussam.
“We are super proud of Salima because she has had to work exceptionally hard to be where she is today,” said Confederation of African Football referees’ boss Eddy Maillet from the Seychelles.
“We know that as a woman she had to overcome serious obstacles to reach this level and she deserves a lot of credit.
“This moment is not just for Salima, but every young girl in Africa who has passion for football and who sees herself as a referee in the future.”
And Zimbabwe coach Mapeza, who won his first game in eight matches as the Warriors coach against Guinea on Tuesday night, hailed CAF for trusting women with the whistle and he reiterated more needs to be done to create more opportunities for this gender equality in the refereeing field.
“I think it was good (having a female referee) and I think she did very well. Games for men are always difficult. Tempers run very high but I think that lady did very well and I think it’s a big achievement for CAF for giving a lady an opportunity to be the centre referee for the game,” said Mapeza before hailing the spirit showed by his charges.
“My wish is now to see other female referees officiating at other bigger tournaments like the World Cup but I think they (CAF) did very well to assign that lady for our match.
“We saw a good match. We played well, unlike the matches against Senegal or Malawi. I would like to thank my players who controlled the game, especially during the first half. In the second half and after having conceded a goal, my players who lack experience, were somewhat unsettled.”
Mapeza said he picked enormous lessons from the AFCON debacle.
“I have picked up so many lessons. You know, the first two matches we conceded in the last moments and in those matches we could have walked away with at least a point.
“Against Malawi we created so many opportunities but we couldn’t put them away and we have been conceding soft goals, so I have picked massive lessons from this tournament.”
With the news that captain Musona, who showed in the tournament despite scoring the opener against Guinea, that he has seen better days in the Warriors squad, wanted to start on the bench.
“Look in our last training session (ahead of the Guinea match) I spoke to him (Musona) because he had not been feeling well.
“So when I spoke to him he said coach give me the last 45 minutes or the last 30 minutes because I am a little bit tired.
“But we decided to put him there. He has contributed to Zimbabwean football massively; we don’t have to doubt his contribution.
“He is one of the legends of Zimbabwean football.”
“There is so much quality in Africa now.”