Refilwe Thokalele scored a double, plus provided an assist, as Botswana started their Women’s Africa Cup of Nations campaign in style with a confident 4-2 victory over Burundi in Rabat on Monday night.
Both teams were making their debuts in a major tournament but if they were in any way nervous it did not show as both play an open game and were full of attacking verve.
The win puts Botswana top of Group C on goal difference from neighbours south Africa, who had beaten defending champions Nigeria 2-0 earlier.
Burundi’s captain Asha Djafari nearly put her side in front in the 32nd minute, but her strike was met with a save from the Botswana and Mamelodi Sundowns’ goalkeeper Sadilame Boseja.
Botswana grabbed the opening goal against the run of play, capitalising on a lack of concentration from Burundi following a substitute. Keitumetse Dithebe unleashed a fiercesome shot, finding the top right corner from the edge of the area in the 43rd minute.
The Mares doubled their lead in the 47th minute as Thokalele’s cross found Lesego Radiakanyo in the middle of the box who in turn found the back of the net.
Burundi pulled one back only minutes later as Boseja parried Djafari’s shot into the path of Sandrine Niyonkuru who turned it in from close range.
But Botswana restored their two-goal lead and then extended it in quick succession as Thokalele grabbed a pair of goals.
The furst was a superb strike in the 55th minute from the edge of the area and, five minutes later, a tap-in following an unselfish pass from Nondi Mahlasela.
Niyonkuru netted once again to give Burundi some much needed hope as she found the back of the net with a cleanly struck volley in the 81st minute following a corner. But it was too little, too late, and Botswana walked away victorious after an impressive scoring display.
It could yet turn out to be an important victory for Botswana in their quest for a spot in the quarterfinals and a much-needed confidence boost as they head into their clash against nine-time winners and current champions Nigeria on Thursday.
Burundi play the same day against South Africa in their second group game.