JOHANNESBURG - Women's Under-20 national team coach Maud Khumalo is clear on what they need to do to get past Nigeria to make their maiden appearance in the Under-20 World Cup.
Basetsana are one round away from booking a ticket to France for the global showpiece that will be played from August 5-24, but before they can start thinking about France they have to get past Nigeria over two legs, starting on Saturday at the Old Peter Mokaba Stadium.
Nigeria will host the return leg on the last weekend of January. The winners will represent Africa in the showpiece along with either Cameroon or Ghana.
Nigeria have tormented South African national teams in every age group in competitive matches. That’s why Banyana Banyana’s win in the 2012 Africa Women Cup of Nations, the men’s Under-17 national team’s victory in the 2015 Under-17 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon), and Bafana Bafana’s recent triumph in the 2019 Afcon qualifiers over the old enemy were hugely celebrated.
“I have two things to say: mental strength and team work. That’s what is going to make us go through,” Khumalo said.
Basetsana have been hard at work in camp in Polokwane preparing for this crucial encounter.
What has helped Khumalo and her technical team is that the players who were preparing for their matric finals in the previous round are done with them and they all passed, removing the pressure of juggling school and football.
“Pressure will always be there; what’s important is how you react to it,” Khumalo said.
“School and football are both important. I would like to congratulate the matriculants because they showed that they have zeal. As a coach it wasn’t easy to help them juggle both. I made them relax and see what’s important. They are more relaxed now. They are in the right space of mind. They are ready.
"There is no pressure from studying anymore even though we have one player who is going to be writing in university.”
Another advantage is that a number of the players in camp took part in the Sasol League National Championships in Nelspruit last year. The competition pitted the nine provincial winners against each other, with interim Banyana coach Desiree Ellis in attendance. It gave them a competitive edge. Twins Sinoxolo and Noxolo Cesane went all the way to the final with Cape Town Roses.
But Nigeria, who beat Morocco 6-2 in the previous round, will offer a sterner test.
The Cesanes have a score to settle with Nigeria. Two years ago they were part of the Under-17 national team that was thumped 7-0 on aggregate by Nigeria in the last round of qualifiers for the Under-17 World Cup.
“As a coach I need to take that pressure, block it and ensure that it doesn’t get to the players because they are young and some of them have never played against Nigeria,” Khumalo said.
“There are a few who have played against Nigeria (at Under-17 level) who have grown and that bodes well for us. They know what they will come up against and they are willing to put everything on the line... to go to the World Cup.
"Going to the World Cup would be a big deal for them because they would be exposed to a bigger stage. They are going to give their best to achieve that.”