JOHANNESBURG - Banyana Banyana's strength in depth will be seriously tested this afternoon when they open the defence of their Cosafa Cup title against Madagascar without their America-based trio.
Houston Dash players Janine Van Wyk, Thembi Kgatlana and Linda Motlhalo will only arrive in Port Elizabeth - venue of the eight nation tournament - today and will thus not be eligible for selection for the Group A opening match.
“We are looking forward to have them join us in camp even though we are disappointed they will miss the first match,” said coach Desiree Ellis. “We will monitor them to see if they can feature in the second match (against Botswana) as their quality will play a key role in our aspirations to defend the title.”
Having made history as the first woman to win the Cosafa Cup for South Africa as both captain and coach, Ellis is keen to go one further and hold on to the title. To achieve that, however, she does not only need to overcome Madagascar and Botswana, but she needs to also see off the tough challenge from a Malawi outfit that boasts star players in sisters Tabitha and Temwa Chawinga who ply their trade in China and Sweden respectively.
While their round-robin phase appears a little easier, with Malawi arguably their most difficult opponents, Banyana will need to be at their best in the knockout stage where they are likely to come up against any of Zambia, Zimbabwe or guests Cameroon.
The desire to win the regional tournament for the fifth time will not be the only driving force behind Banyana though. There’s also the small matter of Ellis wanting to put fear into future opponents in the African Women’s Cup of Nations to be held in Ghana where places at the World Championships will be up for grabs.
Cameroon and Zambia are also both using this tournament as a way to get ready for the continental showpiece. Banyana will look to Australia-bound Refiloe Jane for leadership and inspiration. It was under her captaincy that they won the tournament in Zimbabwe last year.
The @Banyana_Banyana starting 11 vs Madagascar this afternoon in their first match of the 2018 COSAFA Women's Championship at Wolfson Stadium in Port Elizabeth at 15h30. Thato Letsoso (UJ) is making her debut @SAFA_net @SasolSA @BafanaBafana @COSAFAMEDIA pic.twitter.com/D3eG4natm9
Group A teams: South Africa, Madagascar, Botswana, Malawi
Group B teams: Zambia, Cameroon, Lesotho, Mozambique
Group C: Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Namibia, Uganda. - Mihlali Baleka