Banyana Banyana’s Women’s World Cup playoff dreams are all but gone after they went down 1-0 to China at the Parc des Princes in Paris on Thursday night.
Li Ying’s 40th-minute goal was enough to keep the Asian outfit in the tournament, but virtually ended any hopes of the South Africans progressing – bar a miracle.
The defensive alignment of the Banyana team probably cost them the game, particularly in the first half, as they allowed the opposition too much space on the ball.
Apart from the back-four, coach Desiree Ellis also employed a defensive midfielder in Bambanani Mbane, which resulted in the Chinese probing the flanks down the left and right.
Gu Yasha especially was effective in troubling the Banyana defence with a number of pinpoint crosses from the left, and Wang Shanshan and Li Ying benefited from the endless service.
The South Africans scrambled well, with goalkeeper Kaylin Swart making a couple of good saves, and captain Janine van Wyk clearing up some tricky situations.
Van Wyk, though, nearly gifted Shanshan a goal in the first half when she slipped in the box, but the shot was fired wide.
Banyana didn’t enjoy much possession on attack, but when they had the ball, they released the ever dangerous Thembi Kgatlana, who scored the only goal in the 3-1 defeat to Spain.
Kgatlana gave the Chinese defence the run around at times, but didn’t have enough support, while striker Ode Fulutudilu was also heavily marked.
The SA dam wall was eventually breached five minutes before halftime, when a cross from the right by Zhang Rui was brilliantly toe-poked by Li Ying past Swart to send China into the lead.
Banyana came out more determined in the second half, and also seemed to sort out their defensive issues.
They were also more composed on the ball, with the best chance of an equaliser falling to Kgatlana in the 58th minute, but the Chinese defender managed to get a foot in to force a corner just in time.
The Asian side were just better organised and more energetic on the night, while the South Africans seemed to be rushed when they had the ball.
There was also a lucky escape for Van Wyk’s team when China thought they had scored a second goal through a Wang Shanshan header, but TV replay showed that the entire circumference of the ball had not crossed the goal-line.
Banyana nearly had a chance for an equaliser in the final 15 minutes when Kgatlana appealed for a penalty after a suspected handball in the box by Chinese defender Wu Haiyan, but the referee waved play on instead of referring it to the VAR system.
China finished the stronger of the two sides, with Swart making a couple of important saves to keep the score at 1-0.
Banyana are now without any points ahead of their last Group B game against Germany, who have six points, on Monday (6pm SA time).
But there is still an outside chance of qualifying for the next round, depending on what happens between China and Spain, both on three points, in the other group match, as well as results in the five other groups.
Apart from the top two going through to the last-16, the four best third-placed sides will advance as well.