Banyana Banyana must forget the World Cup and beat Nigeria
Banyana Banyana coach Desiree Ellis says the side must put thoughts of the Fifa Women’s World Cup out of their minds as they prepare to face Nigeria in the final of the African Women's Cup of Nations in Accra on Saturday.
South Africa sealed an historic first visit to the World Cup in France next year when they defeated Mali in the semifinals on Tuesday‚ clinching a top-three qualification spot that sparked much celebration‚ both in Ghana and at home.
But Ellis says the job is not yet complete with the chance for the four-time losing finalists to lift the African women’s championship for the first time now tantalisingly close.
“We’ll have to bring our A-game. You come to a tournament to win it. We have said that our first goal was to reach the World Cup‚ but obviously we want to win the tournament as well‚” Ellis said.
Banyana will be without stalwart midfielder and vice-captain Refiloe Jane‚ who has returned to her Australian club Canberra United by prior agreement.
Her loss will be felt‚ but Ellis will be confident of plugging the gap against the fancied Nigerians‚ who Banyana defeated 1-0 in their opening game of the tournament.
She says World Cup qualification‚ and a potential gold medal in Ghana‚ would be just rewards for the veteran players in the side who have only endured bitter disappointment in the past.
“They have been the pillar of strength through the tournament. Janine [Van Wyk] was in tears‚ Noko [Matlou] just kept telling me‚ ‘Coach we did it! We did it!’.
“I was speaking to Mamello [Makhabane] the other day and she was saying‚ ‘I have never been part of a team that has beaten Nigeria’. If you had spoken to her a year ago she wouldn’t have believed it [was possible].
“Jermaine [Seoposenwe] has been with the team for a very long time‚ Leandra [Smeda]‚ Refiloe Jane ... I saw the tears.
"The effort they put in – they knew that we had a chance this year but they needed to bring their A-game and be the ones to rise to the occasion.”
Van Wyk agrees that celebrations must be put on hold with more history in the offing on Saturday.
“Our next target is lifting the trophy and getting the gold medal around our necks. It is something that we are capable of. I honestly believe we can go all the way‚” Van Wyk said.
“We are not going to walk away from this tournament without putting up a great fight in the last 90 minutes to perhaps lift that trophy.
“Nigeria are another tough battle ahead and it is something that allows us to make history once again.”
Van Wyk expects a tougher fight against a Nigerian side that has improved as the tournament has gone on‚ and between two sides weary as they enter a fifth game in under two weeks.
“We beat them in the first game and I don’t think it is going to be the same game. In that first match we were fresh in the mind and physically ready‚ now having played four games already in the tournament it is going to be a tough match for both teams.
“We will have to see which team is hungrier on the day to grab that title.”
The last of Banyana’s four silver medals at the Women’s Nations Cup‚ the last in 2012‚ but never gold. Two of those final losses have come against Nigeria‚ in 1995 and 2000.