Caster Semenya and Noko Matlou during the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup. Caster Semenya visited Banyana Banyana on Wednesday. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu/ BackpagePix

JOHANNESBURG – Banyana Banyana’s utility player Noko Matlou foresees a tough battle in their second Fifa Women’s World Cup encounter against China, but she banks on the team’s desire to do well to see them through.

Banyana and China will battle for their first win in the global showpiece when they square off at Parc des Princes, Paris tonight (9pm kick-off SA time).

It hasn’t been a dream start for either side in their respective campaigns. South Africa were trounced 3-1 by Spain, while the Chinese suffered a 1-0 defeat to Germany. Banyana may be heading into this encounter wearing the caps of the underdogs, but Matlou is well aware these are the kind of matches where they need to be at their best if they are to be on par with the world beaters.

“It’s going to be war,” she said. “I think that every team that has qualified for the World Cup (deserves to be here). So there won’t be a walk in the park and everyone needs to fight. It’s another battle against China, we need to fight and give our best. We’ll see how far we are as a team (in terms of competing with the best).”

Despite being lowly ranked at 49th in the world, South Africa will have reason to be confident against China. In their set-up, Banyana have the reigning Queen of African Football, Thembi Kgatlana, who coincidentally plies her trade in China at Beijing BG Phoenix FC, together with national teammate Linda Motlhalo.

Defender Noko Matlou in training with SA this week, ahead of tonight’s World Cup group match against China in France. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu / BackpagePix

Desiree Ellis, on the other hand, is the current African Women’s Coach of the Year. Flip the script to the Chinese team. The Asians are the queens of their continent, having dominated on eight occasions.

However, Matlou, the first South African to win the Caf Women’s Footballer of the Year award, believes they can take a lot of positives from their loss against Spain.

“If we can add to the positives from the game against Spain and do more against China, I think we can get something,” she said. “We really need the result and we need to do our best. That will give us a chance to go to the second round (the knockout stages).”

When Nkosi Sikelela iAfrika buzzed into full swing at Stade Oceane in Le Havre during South Africa’s match against Spain, it ticked all boxes in Matlou’s wish list as a footballer. Before that, Matlou, who sits on over 150 caps for Banyana, had done it all as a footballer at national level. Hence, the result may have not been pleasant but overall it was a night for the history books.

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The 33-year-old defender’s ultimate reward was being crowned Queen of African Football in 2008, while her stellar career includes seven Africa Women’s Cup of Nations appearances, back-to-back Olympic Games campaigns in 2012 and 2016 and three Cosafa Championships.

“It’s joy and overwhelming being here with the Banyana team,” she said. “Playing my first World Cup match with the team was amazing and something that you can’t really control.

When we sang the national anthem, I knew that the moment had arrived. It was just overwhelming and I was so happy.

I am glad that my sacrifices paid off.”

@Mihlalibaleka

 

The Star

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