Thembi Kgatlana challenges Gu Yasha of China in their second match at the Women's World Cup. Photo: Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes
Banyana Banyana’s chances of achieving the improbable and qualifying for the Fifa Women’s World Cup knockout stage at their first attempt may be hanging by a thread but coach Desiree Ellis is proud of her team’s performances so far.

The South Africans have had a roller-coaster of a global showpiece campaign. In the opener against Spain, Banyana held their own by taking a surprise lead into the break, thanks to an audacious strike from golden girl Thembi Kgatlana.

The wheels, however, did come off in the second half as they conceded three goals. In the next round of matches in Group B on Thursday the South Africans were in a do-or-die situation as they needed something from their encounter against China.

However, it wasn’t to be - narrowly losing by 1-0 thanks to a goal from Yi Ling later in the first half. That result ensured Banyana remained rooted at the bottom without a point in Group B and with only one game left to conclude the group stage.

“Everybody stood up, though. And that is what is so amazing about this group of players because no matter what, they go into the field and give their all,” Ellis said. “The game against China was a fantastic effort and it would have been nice if we got the result along with the performance. But we can be very proud of this group. No matter who starts or who comes off the bench, they give their all. We’ve shown at the World Cup that we didn’t come just to make up numbers, but to compete.”

Banyana's final group stage match is against second ranked and two-time world champions Germany on Monday (5pm kick-off SA time) at La Mosson Stadium in Montpellier. Heading into this encounter, they still have a glimmer of hope of qualifying for the last 16. The permutations are simple: beat Germany without conceding, while banking on a high scoring win between Spain and Germany.

From there, the South Africans would then hope to finish among the best four third-placed teams in the group stage. But that’s easier said than done. The Germans are comfortably sitting atop Group B with maximum points from two matches after already beating the Steel Roses and La Roja. So they’ll be looking to enter the knockout stage with a 100 percent record after meeting Ellis’s troops.

“I think this will be our toughest game. Germany are very organised and structured,” the coach said. "We are going to have a look at working out a game plan. They have six points and obviously want to end well in the group. But we want to make sure we give it a full go because we are still seeking our first points and a win.”

Following their winless streak in warm-up matches leading up to the Cup, it’s extremely encouraging to see Banyana taking the game to some of the world beaters in the main event.

They haven't come across as intimidated débutantes, and they made the Spaniards and Chinese sweat for their victories. That is why, whatever happens on Monday, Ellis says her players can pat themselves on the back for a job well done.

“We are very grateful to Safa as well as Sasol for all they've done for us. Yes, we may not have won out here yet but we've played really well,” Ellis said.


Saturday Star

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