Despite the SA national women’s football side performing well in patches, in the end they were simply outclassed by opponents far more experienced and a lot more tactically aware.
Sweden, in the typical strength of European football, played with precision and discipline. They used slick, quick passing and there was no unnecessary dwelling in possession.
They were always patient and sure in their build-ups as they tried to break down the resolute South Africans.
The Swedes dominated the early stages of the encounter, though they were fortunate to take lead in 10th minute when the unlucky Nolufefe Mbane headed the ball into her own net. Not deterred, though, Banyana gradually played their way back into the game. Once Refiloe Jane made her presence felt in midfield and the excellent Thembi Kgatlana got going, Sweden had a fight on their hands.
Kgatlana had two glorious opportunities, but squandered both.
On both occasions, when put through first by Chantelle Esau and then by Jane, she was clean through on goal, but she stabbed the first chance wide and the second high.
With Sweden clearly needing more thrust in attack, to take advantage of their dominance of possession and territory, they brought on Loretta Kullashi at the start of the second half. The change had an immediate impact as Kullashi netted from Stina Blackstenius’ cross two minutes after the re-start.
And Kullashi went on to score again in the 69th minute when she drilled in a sweet shot from outside the penalty box, giving Banyana goalkeeper Kaylin Swart no chance.
Banyana, though, can take a lot of positives from the fixture. The exposure to top-ranked opposition such as Sweden will stand the team in good stead going forward. From an individual perspective, too, there were some outstanding displays. Kgatlana’s star continues to rise. The impish UWC forward had the Swedish defence floundering on many occasions as they battled to deal with her pace and skill. Whenever Kgatlana received the ball, there was a buzz from the boisterous crowd. She’s still raw and unpolished, but once she gains more experience and composure in and around the penalty area, she’s going to be a player to contend with.
At the back, the imperious Janine van Wyk was an absolute rock, Jane’s control and mastery in midfield were impressive, while Esau looked a really good player too.
On the other hand, from a negative point of view, a major stumbling block for Banyana is the manner in which they surrendered possession. Far too often the player on the ball mis-controlled or dilly-dallied too long, and the Swedes were able to snatch and counter.
But it’s Banyana’s first game of 2018 - and coach Des Ellis will now have a clearer indication of the way forward.