South Africa 0
The organisers got their dream final. The Africa Women Cup of Nations’ (AWC) defending champions Nigeria will take on the hosts Cameroon on Saturday in Yaounde in the finale. But for Banyana Banyana, the nightmare of their wasteful nature in front of goals reared it’s ugly head to haunt them once more.
This was a case of Banyana losing this match rather than the Super Falcons winning it. Banyana frustrated and dominated Nigeria, the first team to do so in a tournament where the undisputed Queens of African football have wiped the floor with their opponents. Two goal-line clearances at the death kept Nigeria in the match. Thembi Kgatlana, after breezing past Nigeria’s defence with her skills, and Linda Motlhalo, in a good scoring position, could have found the back of the net but they didn’t. And that was the difference between Banyana contesting the third-place play-off on Friday in Yaounde against Ghana and Nigeria battling for continental supremacy against the hosts.
For the better part of this match, especially the first half, it looked like Banyana would appear in their fifth final at the expense of the arch-rivals who have tormented them in this competition. Interim coach Desiree Ellis pushed Leandra Smeda from rightback to her regular position on the wing in place of the suspended Jermaine Seoposenwe. Lebogang Mabatle replaced Smeda at rightback. Mabatle was returning to the starting XI for the first time since the days of former coach Joseph Mkhonza.
She quickly adapted to the setup in a high intensity match against a strong Nigerian attack. Her tenacity along with Bambanani Mbane’s composure, Janine van Wyk’s leadership and Nothando Vilakazi’s consistency held together Banyana’s defence. When they were breached, the safe hands of Andile Dlamini cushioned them. That defence silenced the deadly Asisat Oshoala who scored in all three group matches to rake up six goals. While the defence stood their ground, it was Banyana’s attack that buzzed.
They took the game to the nine-time African champions, not showing them any respect. Banyana almost stunned the Super Falcons with a well-worked free-kick but Smeda was offside when she scored. That cheeky free-kick – with a simple nudge from Van Wyk to Refiloe Jane who ran wide before crossing the ball – is just one example among many of how Banyana outsmarted their opponents for the better part of this match. Only the final touch let them down.
The Super Falcons punished Banyana for having the audacity to pin them down but not deliver the killer blow. Desire Oparanozie showed them how it’s done when she blasted Nigeria into the final with a powerful free-kick inside the d-line after Mbane brought down Ngozi Okobi there. The Turkish-based Oparanozie, who won the Golden Boot in the 2014 AWC, benefitted from a wicked deflection off Mamello Makhabane that left goalkeeper Dlamini helpless.
This loss was another cruel lesson for Banyana on the need to punish teams, especially good ones like Nigeria, whenever they have the upper hand because it takes one moment of brilliance to swing the match back into their favour. The side now has to regroup for the third-place play-off. After that, they must prepare for the start of the four-year Olympics cycle that has a World Cup in between it.