Banyana Banyana’s maiden Fifa Women’s World Cup got off on a sour note on Saturday as they were defeated 3-1 by Spain at Stade Oceane in Le Havre.
Desiree Ellis’ troops made a dream start when they found themselves in front in the 25th minute thanks to a sublime chip by Thembi Kgatlana, but the wheels fell off late in the game thanks to some lapses in concerntration and some unfortunate bad luck.
With the game reaching its conclusion, Banyana conceded two penalties in seven minutes and had Nothando Vilakazi sent off, and Spain took full advantage.
South Africa came into this encounter with nothing to lose considering that they were making their debut in the competition. Moreover, they were fresh from gruelling preparations, having been winless in nine matches – losing six and drawing three.
However, this encounter served greater purpose for the South Africans as they had to enjoy themselves in their maiden global showpiece following 12 failed attempts.
They did, however, grab the bulls by the horns as they got a surprise lead from Kgatlana, the reigning Queen of African football.
The Banyana maestro danced her way into the Spaniards’ box, sold her marker a dummy before curling the ball into the top corner. That strike was the fruits of Banyana’s perseverance upfront – as striking trio Kgatlana, Ode Fulutidulu and Linda Motlhalo were a nuisance on the Spaniards’ defence with their speed.
Coach Desiree Ellis mastered her game-plan by being offensive, making up for her defence that was a bit offish on the day, especially after the surprise start of veteran Noko Matlou at centre-back ahead of Bambanani Mbane, who exceptionally linked up with skipper Janine van Wyk in Africa Women’s Cup of Nations last year in Ghana.
The South Africans took a precarious lead into the break as they were on the back-foot in the later stages of the half. Goalkeeper Andile Dlamini had to be sharp as Spain went in search of an equaliser.
The Europeans were, however, unlucky as a dipping set-piece from Maria Leon went a few inches just over the cross bar.
Coach Jorge Vilda was forced to adjust his plans a bit in the second half – making a double substitution in the start as Altana Bonmati and Lucia Garcia took the field in place of Victoria Losada and Amanda Sampedro.
However, it was striker Jenni Hermoso who nearly restored parity with a half-volley that came off the woodwork.
The second half progressed slowly with either side failing to create chances from open play. South Africa should have given the Spain a sucker punch when Kgatlana had a point-blank shot saved just from the goal line after being teed up by Fulutudilu.
With Banyana looking to be in line of a ground breaking appearance in the global showpiece, a lapse of concentration defensively would come back to duly punish them.
Under pressure skipper Van Wyk conceded a penalty for her side after a handball. Hermoso stepped-up to take the responsibility and sent Dlamini the wrong way.
Spain appeared to have got their second of the night after Garcia caught Dlamini off her line but only for the former’s efforts to be ruled offside.
With the match looking to be headed for a draw – what would have been a perfect outcome for Ellis troops – Banyana yet again faltered as Vilakazi conceded another and was shown a second yellow card.
Hermoso, again stepped up and scored from the spot.
It then turned from bad to worse for the debutants as Garcia beat the offside trap before dribbling past Dlamini to score into an empty net.
Ellis’ troops will now be hoping to get back to winning ways when they face China in their second game of the group stage on Thursday.