Can WAFCON contenders Nigeria, South Africa compensate for missing stars in quarterfinals?

One of the key themes of the WAFCON so far has been the loss of some of the tournament's biggest stars, with South Africa, Nigeria and Zambia all now having to reconfigure their tactical approaches after losing their key player.

Nigeria are without Barcelona striker Asisat Oshoala to injury, as are Banyana Banyana missing Thembi Kgatlana for the same reason. Zambia's Barbra Banda was ruled out before the tournament began, due to hormone testing deeming her testosterone levels too high.

North African pair Tunisia and hosts Morocco are also in the running in the quarterfinals, and while teams from the region have impressed in the tournament in the past only to fall short in the latter stages, could either of these two finally secure a first ever title (or even semifinal berth) for a team from the continent's north?

With World Cup qualification as well as the African women's title up for grabs, the quarterfinals are essentially playoffs to reach the 2023 tournament in Australia and New Zealand.

The four winners will book their tickets to next year's showpiece, while the four losers will face off on Sunday for a place in the inter-confederation playoffs.

Zambia vs Senegal - July 13, Casablanca

The story so far: Zambia were forced to adapt after Banda and three other players were prevented from taking part in the tournament after registering testosterone readings above the Confederation of African Football's prescribed limit.

It was a bitter blow for the Copper Queens -- looking to build on their maiden Olympic performance in Japan last year -- with Banda having been the six-goal star of that campaign in Japan.

Without her -- and influential duo Racheal Nachula and Racheal Kundananji -- Grace Chanda has stepped into a key attacking role, including netting a double in the 4-1 thumping of Togo.

Defensively, Zambia were criticised for shipping 15 goals in three Olympic group stage games, but they've improved dramatically since then, keeping clean sheets against fancied Cameroon and Tunisia to silence the critics.

Senegal started the tournament strongly, with a comfortable 2-0 victory over Uganda, their first ever triumph in the WAFCON.

However, they lost momentum towards their final group game against the hosts, with a Covid-19 outbreak in the camp reducing their options.

Star performers: Chanda is helping Zambia forget (as much as is possible) the loss of the irrepressible Banda, and her courage and movement can help destabilise any AWCON defence.

However, the backline has been Zambia's key asset so far, proving they learned some tough lessons from the chastening Olympic display.

Goalkeeper Hazel Nali -- much maligned in Japan -- made several valuable saves against Cameroon and Tunisia, while representing the nation with class off the pitch amidst the Banda storm.

Similarly, right-back Margaret Belemu and central defenders Lushomo Mweemba and Martha 'Terminator' Tembo have excelled. They've only been breached by a long-range effort from Togo's Mafille Woedikou.

Zambia will do well to keep a clean sheet against Senegal, however, who will be hoping that forward Nguenar Ndiaye and keeper Tening Sene can return from their coronavirus absences in time.

Towering double-winning teenage striker Hapsatou Malado Diallo can be an effective Plan B for the Teranga Lionesses, and certainly caused Uganda problems in their opener.

Prediction: Senegal have already broken new ground, but their run will end at the quarterfinal stage.

Zambia's opening 0-0 draw with Cameroon was critical to settle the camp following the Banda bombshell and prove that - defensively - they can hold their own.

Now, having found their goalscoring touch against Togo, they look favourites to reach a maiden World Cup...the natural next step in the national team's progression.

Morocco vs Botswana - July 13, Rabat

The story so far: Botswana qualified due to a 4-2 victory over Burundi in their opener, with the three points proving enough to see them through despite subsequent defeats by Nigeria and South Africa.

They're outsiders against a Morocco team who, backed by home support, are one of only two sides who have preserved an undefeated record.

Narrow triumphs over Burkina Faso and Senegal didn't set the pulse racing, but the 3-1 victory over Uganda -- the biggest flops of the tournament -- has fuelled optimism that they can become the first ever North African team to qualify for the World Cup on Wednesday.

Star performers: Morocco's Ghizlane Chebbak has been the outstanding player of the tournament so far, and is also the current WAFCON top scorer, having netted in every game, including two winners.

Hers is a beautiful story, as she looks to emulate her father, Larbi Chebbak, who was part of the Morocco men's team that won the country's only Africa Cup of Nations to date in 1976.

There's increasingly a sense of destiny about Chebbak, who scored one of the goals of the tournament -- a direct free kick against Burkina Faso -- and then delivered one of the celebrations of the tournament when she pretended to faint in delight.

The Atlas Lionesses skipper has made no secret of the fact that she's delivering each performance in honour of her father -- who passed away in 2020 -- and she has the potential to win both the Golden Boot and the Golden Shoe.

Botswana's chief threat so far has been centre-forward Refilwe Thokalele. Her display against Burundi, when she scored twice in five second-half minutes, was eye-catching, although against stronger Nigeria and South Africa sides, she was effectively neutralised.

Prediction: The Mares have done well to be the last debutants still standing -- particularly considering their nightmarish group stage draw -- although they're contending with several injuries in the camp as the quarters approach. Expect their run to end on Wednesday though, as the hosts progress to the final four.

Cameroon vs Nigeria - July 14, Casablanca

The story so far: It's been an uncharacteristically rocky group stage campaign for record 11-time champions Nigeria, who lost only their fifth game in 63 WAFCON matches when they were defeated by Banyana Banyana in their opener.

Head coach Randy Waldrum also took aim at the Nigerian media after his team were criticised for their display while the loss was compounded by news that Asisat Oshoala -- Africa's outstanding player -- was ruled out for the tournament after injuring her medial cruciate ligament.

To their credit, the Super Falcons responded in style, defeating Botswana and Burundi 2-0 and 4-0 respectively to romp into the Last Eight.

Limited opponents they may have been, but Nigeria -- whisper it -- looked more innovative and adventurous without their star performer, and should still have the experience and quality to go the distance.

Cameroon will surely be disappointed with their group stage display, and a second-placed finish in Group B has led to a potentially costly meeting with fellow runners-up Nigeria.

They failed to break down Zambia, were then held by a Togo team who were summarily crushed by both of their other group opponents, but did up their game to best Tunisia and progress.

Star performers: Inter Milan star Ajara Nchout has -- predictably -- quietly gone about her business with class in the final third for Cameroon, taking on an increasingly influential role within the team and forming an increasingly potent attacking unite alongside Genevieve Ngo Mbeleck and Michaela Abam.

With Gabrielle Onguene pulling the strings, Ajara can certainly hurt Nigeria's backline -- look at her key pass to set up Abam for the opener against Tunisia, before she added a second with a diving header. USA-based defender Estelle Johnson is also building on her strong showing at the 2019 World Cup.

Defender Osinachi Ohale, blue-haired forward Rasheedat Ajibade, and Mexico-based attacker Uchenna Kanu have stood out for Nigeria as Waldrum looks to readjust his side in light of Oshoala's absence.

Prediction: This is comfortably the tie of the round, with both teams surely expecting to meet each other in the final rather than the quarters.

Cameroon can turn on the style -- look at how they eviscerated The Gambia in qualification -- but will their meeting with the Super Falcons come too soon? Despite the loss of Oshoala, it would be a major shock if the reigning champions were to fall so soon; their rout of Burundi should give them the momentum to progress.

South Africa vs Tunisia - July 14, Rabat

The story so far: South Africa's second-half display against Nigeria in their opener was a joy to behold, as Desiree Ellis's side showed their maturity to dispatch the favourites in a rematch from the 2018 final.

It's the kind of performance that could provide a springboard for a successful assault of the title, and Banyana duly built on that victory with wins over Burundi and Botswana.

The loss of Racing Louisville's Kgatlana, however, is a massive blow to their hopes -- there's no one in that squad that can replace her raw talent -- and having been both Top Scorer and Best Player at the last WAFCON, she's got the kind of pedigree that could have taken South Africa to the title.

Banyana will also have to content with a COVID-19 outbreak in the squad, reported just two days before the match, though no names have yet been released so the hope in the camp will be that there will be enough strength on the bench to get them through.

Offensively, Tunisia's 4-1 thumping of poor Togo was one of the performances of the tournament, although the Carthage Eagles' optimism has definitely been dented by subsequent losses to Zambia and Cameroon.

They must demonstrate that, even if the attacking masterclass against the Female Sparrowhawks couldn't be replicated against tougher opponents, they can at least trouble more established defences.

Star performers: Classy Mariem Houij set the tone for Tunisia with their opener after just 15 seconds against Togo, while full-back Samia Aouni has caught the eye with her adventure from deep-left positions.

Feyenoord's Sabrine Ellouzi, who's also a food blogger off the pitch, was outstanding with a two-goal showing against Togo, but the CAF Women's Footballer of the Year longlist nominee struggled to impose herself in subsequent matches.

Banyana goalkeeper Andile Dlamini was named Goalkeeper of the Group Stage by CAF, and indeed, the Mamelodi Sundowns stopper has made a series of big stops while organising her defence well.

Ellis's big players have all stepped up, with Linda Motlhalo excellent against Nigeria, and Refiloe Jane and Jermaine Seoposenwe also effective. Skipper Janine van Wyk has struggled to force her way into the team, although wonderkid Nthabiseng Majiya made a name for herself with a late winner off the bench against Botswana. The teenager only made her Banyana debut on Thursday, and appears set for a bright future.

Predictions: With experience on their side, and an unbeaten group-stage record behind them, Banyana are the favourites heading into this one... although, trying to compensate for Kgetlana's loss represents one of the biggest challenges of Ellis's celebrated career.