African women aim to make impact at Rio Olympics

South Africa women in action against USA in a friendly in July
South Africa women in action against USA in a friendly in July

While Africa has won Olympic men's football gold twice, the women's tournament has proved to be far more challenging for the continent.

This is the sixth time that women's football has been played at the Olympics, and the only time that an African team has progressed to the knock-out stage was in 2004 when Nigeria reached the quarter-finals.

Africa was not represented at the 1996 Olympics, and in the four tournaments that the continent has taken part in, the record is far from impressive.

The African teams have a combined record of one win, one draw and 12 defeats.

Nigeria beat Japan 1-0 in 2004 in the second of the Super Falcons' appearances, and South Africa did relatively well to draw 0-0 with Japan in 2012, their first time to feature in the competition.

Unlike the men's competition, the women's tournament is for senior teams.

Africa's two representatives in Brazil are the two lowest-ranked of the 12 participating teams - South Africa are 52, and Zimbabwe are a lowly 93 in the world.

Here, BBC Sport assesses their chances.

South Africa

Quick facts
Road to Brazil: Beat Gabon 8-2 on aggregate, Kenya 2-0 and Equatorial Guinea 1-0
Second appearance at the Olympic women's tournament
Playing in Group E with Brazil, China and Sweden

Banyana Banyana have enjoyed thorough preparations, with a $1m dollar budget from national lottery funds. A 1-0 friendly defeat to the USA in July was hugely encouraging, but the 4-1 loss to New Zealand in Rio in their final warm-up match was a sobering reminder of the task ahead.

Ten members of the squad were at the London Olympics, with captain Janine Van Wyk is the longest-serving member of a squad that has plenty of experience.

"We're all really excited, we've learned a lot, especially in the past few international games, we're well-prepared and hopefully we can do well," she said.

Coach Vera Pauw is also optimistic.

"I have confidence that the squad we have selected will represent us well in Brazil, preparations have given me hope that we can make our mark at the Olympics," said Pauw.

South Africa have always been among the big guns of African women's football, finishing runners-up four times in the Africa Women's Cup of Nations.

However, on paper, the gulf in class between Banyana Banyana and the other teams in the group looks vast, and they will do well to better their record of two defeats and a draw in 2012.

Zimbabwe

Quick facts
Road to Brazil: Beat Zambia on away goals (2-2 agg), then a walkover after Ivory Coast withdrew, and beat Cameroon on away goals (2-2 agg)
First appearance at the Olympic women's tournament
Playing in Group F with Germany, Australia and Canada

Zimbabwe's qualification came against all the odds, as the Mighty Warriors failed to travel for their game away to Ivory Coast in the penultimate round.

The Zimbabwe Football Association couldn't find money for air tickets, but in a lenient judgement, Fifa awarded the first leg to Ivory Coast on a 3-0 scoreline rather that throwing Zimbabwe directly out of the qualifiers. The Ivorians then refused to travel for the return leg and Zimbabwe progressed.

"We never really dreamt that one day we would be at the Olympics, but it's happened," says striker Rudo Neshamba, who scored both of Zimbabwe's goals in the final qualifying round against Cameroon.

"With hard work everything is possible, and it's everyone's dream in the squad to get a contract in Europe or America."

In contrast to South Africa, financial constraints led to Zimbabwe having to shorten their preparations. After qualifying for this year's Africa Women's Cup of Nations, the Mighty Warriors broke camp and only reassembled three weeks before leaving for Brazil.

There is no national women's football league in the country, putting the players at a further disadvantage.

Zimbabwe coach Shadreck Mlauzi draws some hope from the performances this year of underdogs such as English champions Leicester City, and Iceland and Wales playing well at Euro 2016.

"We'd like to take a leaf out of the Euros, where we saw big upsets, so we are not afraid of any team," says Mlauzi.

"We are an extremely gifted nation, but resources have limited us from expressing our full potential. Whether we win the trophy or not, it's our first time there, and we'll make sure that the Zimbabwe flag is raised high."

Despite the positive intentions, the Mighty Warriors face fearsome opposition in Group F, and it would be no surprise to see them on the wrong end of a double-figure scoreline at some point.

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