CAPE COAST – Banyana Banyana are just 90 minutes away from reaching their dream of qualifying for the World Cup, as they prepare to take on Mali in their Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) semifinals on Tuesday.
The two nations clash on at the Cape Coast Stadium in Ghana, with the match starting at 8.30pm SA time.
The winners will proceed to the final and automatically book their tickets to the 2019 Women’s World Cup, which will take place in France in June.
“We have been saying we will take this tournament game-by-game, and now the most important match is upon us. This is a final for us as qualification for the World Cup is non-negotiable. We have been dreaming of this moment for a long time, now it’s time to walk the talk,” said Banyana coach Desiree Ellis.
This will be the first-ever meeting between the two countries, and South Africa come into this match having scored nine goals in three games, having conceded two. They finished top of Group B.
Mali, in contrast, had a somewhat leaky defence, letting in five goals and found the back of the net six times to end second in Group A.
“The fact that they are in the last four means they are capable of playing, so we cannot take them for granted based on their past performance in this tournament.
“Also they have nothing to lose as this is their first semifinal in the tournament – while we have been here before, so the pressure is on us, hence we say it’s a do a or die affair for us.
“Unfortunately the good work we did in the group stages, and the preparations before the start of the tournament will count for nothing if we don’t get anything out OF this game. We haven’t lost a game but that is all in the past – we are playing a new match altogether. We have to be at our best to realise our hopes and aspirations.
“We are within touching distance and it is all in our hands. We have to leave everything on the field and not count on having a second bite of the cherry at the third and fourth place play off, as it does not exist in our minds.
“We have come too far to leave it all behind. This is one match that no player needs motivation for.”
MATCH DAY! 90 minutes away from clinching spot in the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup in France. The time is now! 🇿🇦 @Banyana_Banyana 🇿🇦 @SAFA_net 🇿🇦 @SasolLeague 🇿🇦 @SasolSA 🇿🇦 #limitless 🇿🇦 #afcon2018 🇿🇦 @FIFAWWC 🇿🇦 pic.twitter.com/54xrXIkygG— Banyana_Banyana (@Banyana_Banyana) November 27, 2018
South Africa came close to winning the trophy in 2000, 2008 and 2012 when they finished as runners up.
The last two editions of the tournament were particularly difficult as they exited in fourth place.
Ellis could also become the first coach to qualify Banyana for a FIFA World Cup – which will be even more significant as she is a former captain of the team. She was also the assistant coach when the squad qualified for their second Olympic Games in Rio in 2016.
Ellis also holds the record of winning the Cosafa Women’s Championship as both a player and a coach.
“It does cross my mind but I always try not to think of personal accolades because it is not about me, but the collective. We have a very strong and competent team working in the background to ensure this team succeeds. I may be the face of the team, but credit goes to all the unsung heroes and heroines who work tirelessly behind the scenes.”
Victory against Mali will see Banyana become only the second SA women’s team to qualify for a World Cup – after the Under-17 women’s team has done so on two occasions, in 2010 (Trinidad and Tobago) and in 2018 (Uruguay).
They will also join Bafana Bafana (France 1998, Korea & Japan 2002 and South Africa 2010), the Under-20 men’s team (2017 Korea Republic), as well as the Under-17 men’s team (2015 Chile).
The Under-20 women’s team have never qualified for the World Cup.
African News Agency (ANA)