ACCRA, Ghana - Banyana Banyana were handed a place in a difficult group following the Women's Africa Cup of Nations draw held on Sunday, in Accra, Ghana.
The South Africans are in Group B along with the defending champions Nigeria, as well as Zambia and Kenya, and they will be based in the coastal city of Cape Coast for the tournament to be held in Ghana next month.
“There was never going to be an easy group – all eight teams that have qualified are top quality, and we all know that to be the best, you have to beat the best," said Banyana coach Desire Ellis.
This year’s competition, to be held in the West African country for the first time, also serves as the African qualifiers to the 2019 Fifa Women’s World Cup. The top three teams will qualify for the World Cup to be held in France in June next year.
“We have played all three teams before, which means we have a good idea of what we are up against – and that does not in any way mean they will be easy, in fact, more to the contrary. But we know what our mission is – to qualify for the World Cup, and that is not negotiable,” Ellis said.
Banyana open their campaign against Nigeria on November 18. “Nigeria has won this tournament a record seven times, and they are the defending champions, so they will definitely be sensing victory against us – but we are glad to be meeting them now and not later in the tournament because our last encounter ended in tears for us – we lost 1-0 in the semifinal of this competition in 2016, and that denied us a chance to be at the World Cup,” added Ellis.
“Playing them in the first match is also a tricky affair because you have to be on top of your game from the first whistle, and any mistake they will punish you. In any case, I always tell the players that the first fixtures of any tournament are very important as they set the tone for the rest of the competition. I believe we will be ready for them this time – we are much wiser.”
In the second match South Africa will take on Kenya November 21 – also at Cape Coast, but will travel to Accra for the final group stage fixture against Zambia on November 24. In Group A, hosts Ghana have been drawn against Cameroon, Mali and Algeria in the Group A, and will play their matches in the capital Accra.
The tournament kicks off on November 17 with the Black Queens (Ghana) up against Algeria at the Accra Sports Stadium. Of the eight nations taking part in the competition, only Nigeria has won the Afcon – a record 10 times.
South Africa, who are making their 12th appearance, had their best showing in 1995, 2000, 2008 and 2012 when they finished as runners up. The semifinals are set for November 27, with the bronze match scheduled for November 30. The final will be played on December 1 in Accra.
Women's Africa Cup of Nations groups:
Group A: Ghana, Algeria, Mali, Cameroon
Group B: Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia, Kenya
African News Agency (ANA)