Banyana will not surrender

Diminutive defensive midfielder Mamello Makhabane, or “Juca” to her teammates, has become an indispensable part of Banyana’s hunt for an elusive World Cup berth.

She was the most valuable player during South Africa’s 1-0 loss to Cameroon in the opening Group B game, which highlighted her importance, even in a losing cause.

Such has been the efficiency of Banyana’s midfield that three of them received the MVP award in the three group games and against their nemesis Nigeria, they will be asked to step up in a way they have not done so under temperamental coach Vera Pauw.

In some ways, the semifinals are far more important than the final itself because the winners go through to the World Cup, with the losers still having to slug it out in the third-place playoff to determine the last African side that will cement its World Cup place.

The Super Falcons stand in their way and will be gunning for revenge after South Africa beat them at the same stage at the 2012 African Women’s Championship in Equatorial Guinea.

Makhabane is fully aware of the semifinal pitfall but said they know the importance of beating Nigeria, especially with the knowledge and experience of having beaten them before.

“Our aim is to qualify for the World Cup and to be honest, getting past the semifinals will be a big morale-booster for us but even finishing third won’t be the worst achievement because we will have accomplished the World Cup goal,” said Makhabane.

“The semifinals are important, though, and we need to make sure we get past them so we don’t have to live in the hope of the third-place playoff. Anything is possible in that game and we don’t want to subject ourselves to undue pressure by not doing well in the semifinal. Winning the semifinal will make our job very easy.”

Excellent backs-to-the- wall performances have been synonymous with South African teams and they have become the norm, not the exception for Banyana, who seem to thrive under pressure.

Pauw said they would be subjected to pressure they have not been under in the tournament, even though her team has played North and West African teams, with mixed results.

Fighting has become part of Banyana’s DNA and Makhabane said they will make sure they leave their boots on the artificial Sam Nujoma Stadium surface.

“You can call us fighters because we started the tournament slowly. We lost our first game but we managed to find ourselves in this position. I guess it is a title that can be bestowed on us and it does seem to suit us any way,” said Makhabane.

“I know we need to go there and fight and do what we need to do to get to the World Cup.”