CAPE TOWN – Banyana Banyana took a giant leap in their preparation for the World Cup by producing a well-deserved goalless draw with fellow finalists Sweden in the Albertina Sisulu Centenary Challenge at Cape Town Stadium on Tuesday night.
Banyana showed all the qualities that earned the Africa Women’s Cup of Nations a runners-up place last year, and they are certainly a team heading in the right direction.
Last year Sweden came to the Mother City and triumphed 3-0, but they met a much more determined and well-drilled South African outfit this time around.
Coach Desiree Ellis, as promised, made four changes to the starting line-up that faced the Netherlands on Saturday to allow the majority of her squad game-time against top-level European opposition.
Regular skipper Janine van Wyk was not risked due to her groin strain that forced her off at the weekend, with Refiloe Jane being handed the captain’s armband.
Midfielder Busisiwe Ndimeni also sat out with a calf problem along with Leandra Smeda, while there was also a change in goal, with Andile Dlamini replacing Kaylin Swart.
After a sluggish start against the Netherlands when Banyana conceded two goals within the first 20 minutes, the hosts showed they are fast learners.
Ellis’ team were much more composed in the opening stanza on Tuesday night, particularly with Jane slotting further back into a more central midfield role instead of her customary left-wing position.
Along with the hard-working Mamello Makhabane, the Canberra FC star took control of the midfield for Banyana as they dominated possession within the first quarter.
The visitors certainly did not look like a team ranked 40 places above Banyana on the official Fifa rankings, and only towards the latter part of the first half did their superior physical strength come to the fore.
With the majority of the play occurring in the middle third of the pitch, neither team were able to create any clear-cut goal-scoring opportunities in the first 45 minutes.
Banyana’s best chance fell to Rhoda Mulaudzi on the edge of the Swedish box after good interlinking play between her and Thembi Kgatlana.
Mulaudzi, though, could unfortunately not direct her shot on target, and the ball fizzed past Sweden’s right-hand upright.
The second half was certainly more enterprising, with both teams pouring forward in search of an opening goal. On came Smeda for the hosts, adding further bite to the Banyana engine room.
But it was the Swedes who had the first shot on goal, with Julia Zigiotti-Olme striking from distance that impressive goalkeeper Dlamini did well to get down to.
Banyana, though, responded almost immediately when Kgatlana found herself in some space on the edge of the Swedish goal area before unleashing a solid shot, albeit with her weaker right foot.
Both coaches made further changes in the last quarter, with Sweden’s Peter Gerhardsson making a triple swap before another double to inject some impetus into his charges.
Ellis followed suit, hauling off the once-again impressive Kgatlana for Jermaine Seoposenwe.
The latter made an immediate impact when her cross found Linda Motlhalo in space on the right flank, only for the Houston Dash striker to send her volley into the stands.
The visitors, though, had their own chances to snatch a late winner through substitute Madelen Janogy and defender Hanna Glas, who stung the crossbar with a rasping shot.
However, the last chance of the match fell to Seoposenwe, who just could not curl her free kick into the top right-hand corner ,which would have propelled Banyana to what would have been a most memorable victory.
There were, though, sufficient positives for Ellis and her charges to take from this match, particularly the way they starved the Swedes of possession, found space through their fast-paced passing game and looked solid in defence, even without their inspirational leader Van Wyk.@ZaahierAdams