Bambanani Mbane is confident Banyana will finish in the top three at Awcon. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix
According to Banyana Banyana defender Bambanani Mbane, opening their account against their bogey side Nigeria in the Africa Women’s Cup of Nations (Awcon) this afternoon will serve as a stepping stone for a top three finish.

In the 2014 and 2016 editions of the continental showpiece, Banyana’s World Cup aspirations were dented by the Super Falcons who beat them in the semi-finals 2-1 and 1-0 respectively.

Subsequently in the third place play-offs they lost to Ivory Coast and Ghana.

“I think it’s a huge advantage playing against Nigeria in our opener because both teams are still fresh,” Mbane told Independent Media from Ghana.

“No one will have complaints about fatigue or anything like that. We are also pleased that we are opening our account against them. In our semi-finals, sometimes we weren’t on the good side of the officials. And coming into this game, we are looking for a win and nothing less.”

Banyana have been in west Africa for over a week now, thus giving them enough time to adjust to the climate.

Prior to the clash with the Super Falcons, Banyana endured a 1-0 loss to the host nation in a friendly match.

However, the 28-year-old defender draws positives from their defeat. She said their midday training sessions at home helped them adjust to the heat.

Mbane and company are in Group B with the Super Falcons, Zambia and Equatorial Guinea. While Banyana and the Super Falcons are favourite to make the semi-finals from their group, “Juice” has her eyes on securing a World Cup qualification spot through a top three finish.

“From both tournaments in 2014 and 2016, we’ve learnt from our mistakes,” she explained.

“However, it’s always difficult playing away from home because the officiating is not on your side. This time around, we are well prepared and we have to work as a team because we want to qualify for the World Cup - and we had promised the nation that we’ll represent them."

While the Sterkspruit-born footballer has been consistent in the defence of the Bloemfontein Celtic ladies’ team and Banyana, she’s yet to receive suitors from overseas clubs. But she’s convinced that when the time is right, that call will come.

At the moment she’s thrilled that Banyana have an added advantage of four regulars - Linda Motlhalo and Thembi Kgatlana (both US), Refiloe Jane (Australia) and Leandra Smeda (Lithuania) - who play abroad.

“When the time is right I’ll go abroad,” she said.

“There’s nothing that surpasses hard work. If there’s a chance, then we’ll see. Other than that, I am still focusing on doing well for my team and Banyana.

“When an opportunity comes, it should find me ready, after all I like expanding my horizons.”

Coach Desiree Ellis and her troops go into today’s clash high on confidence after recently being voted South African Team of the Year at the annual sports awards.

@MihlaliBaleka


Sunday Independent

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