JOHANNESBURG – “It’s time.” Those were the words of Fran Hilton-Smith, Safa assistant technical director, as she described Banyana Banyana’s first qualification for the Women’s World Cup that will staged in France, next year. And the fact that Banyana will be in a tough group does not deter her.
Banyana booked their spot at the global showpiece last month, as they beat Mali in the Africa Women’s Cup of Nations semi-finals.
On Saturday, coach Desiree Ellis and her troops were drawn alongside Germany, Spain and China for their maiden tournament. However, although the South Africans are likely to take the “underdog” tag, Hilton-Smith is convinced that they have the personnel to compete.
“I am confident and think that we are ready to compete,” Hilton-Smith said. “We’ve got many players that made the Caf top-11, like Janine van Wyk, Thembi Kgatlana and Lebogang Ramalepe. We really have players who are stepping up and it’s time to go to the World Cup. What also made the difference in the past Awcon is that we have many players who are playing internationally, and at a higher level.”
While Banyana and Spain will be making their maiden appearance at the global showpiece, their counterparts China and Germany have been regulars at the tournament.
Furthermore, Germany and China had a good run at the last World Cup that was held in Canada as they finished in the top-four and last-eight respectively.
However, Hilton-Smith is more concerned about the Spanish national team as their Under-17 side won the recent World Cup that was held in Uruguay.
“It’s a tough draw, and there’s no doubt about that,”Hilton-Smith said. “Germany have been champions before. China have been in women’s football for a long time, and Spain - like us - are the new kids on the block. But Spain have relatively done well in recent years; their junior team won the world champs, so it really (is) a tough group for us.”
It’s been an impressive 2018 year for Banyana. They had a good run in two international trips to Cyprus and Chile respectively. That was followed by their successful defence of the Cosafa title and finishing runners-up at Awcon last week.
Aware that the World Cup is a different proposition, Safa have arranged international friendlies against renowned nations such as Sweden, the Netherlands and defending World Cup champions, the United States. The South Africans will host both the Netherlands and the Swedes in January, while their encounter against the Dutch is set to honour the centenary of the late struggle icon Albertina Sisulu.
“The bottom line is that we must compete,”Hilton-Smith said. “We play Sweden twice and Netherlands in January in Cape Town. Then there’s the Cyprus Cup in March, and there’s the USA in May. So we are preparing properly to ensure that we don’t make up the numbers and we can try to get through the group.”@Mihlalibaleka