African champions Banyana not bothered by pressure heading to the World Cup

FILE - Banyana Banyana head coach Desiree Ellis. Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

FILE - Banyana Banyana head coach Desiree Ellis. Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

Published Apr 7, 2023


Johannesburg — The cloud of expectations that’s hanging over Banyana Banyana heading to their second World Cup appearance in a row doesn’t bother them in the slightest.

Finalists in the 2018 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations in Ghana, Banyana sealed their spot in the grandest football competition for the first time in history in the 2019 finals in France.

As expected, their performance in France was that of novices as they were bullied throughout the group stage — losing all three matches to Germany, Spain and China.

Fast track to the 2023 finals in Australia and New Zealand, though, the South African will not be heading to the event as continental bridesmaids but as the crowned African Queens.

And that’s why there’ll be huge pressure on their shoulders to follow in their continental predecessors Nigeria by at least exiting the group stage — having the Super Falcons achieved that feat in France.

Banyana’s campaign won’t be easy, though, as they are pitted against the second, 16th and 28th ranked nations in the world Sweden, Italy and Argentina in Group G, while they are lowly 48th.

But coach Desiree Ellis’ troops are not fazed by the expectations. They know that they’d have to improve from their maiden appearance in France.

“When we went to the World Cup in 2019, it was more of an experience and excitement. But this time we know the level that we’ll be competing at,” goalkeeper Andile Dlamini said.

“This time we are not only representing South Africa, but the whole continent. And yes, there’s a bit of pressure on us to represent the continent with pride.

“But pressure aside, when it’s 11 v 11 in the pitch, you don’t think about the continent but getting the points that you need to get so that you can advance to the next stage.

“So for us, it’s more of understanding the fact that, yes we are African champions, but we are going there to compete against teams that will be even to us.”

Full marks for knowing that they’ll have to advance to the next round, but Banyana haven’t been convincing in their preparations.

They were hammered by Brazil, lost to co-hosts Australia, finished third in the Turkiye Cup and will face non-World Cup participants Serbia in their last Friendly, before jetting out for the finals, on Monday.

Moreover, there were at least two withdrawals from the recent squad that flew out to Serbia Thursday night, adding to the challenges that they’ve faced in ensuring they are sharp for the finals.

But to their defence, Dlamini doesn’t want to read too much into their rollercoaster preparations, insisting that they'll succeed as long as they have a positive mindset.

“Four (two withdrawals) players is not a big worry. Yes, this is a higher competition. The gap is too big. We won’t have many friendlies but individually, we have programs,” she said.

“I think we showed it at the African Cup of Nations,n. We went there and won the tournament without even playing a single friendly. We just have to be strong mentally and work hard.

“So it’s not a big worry (that we’ve had disruptions). I believe that we must focus on ourselves and each and every player believes the same way and trust what the technical team has put in place for us.”


IOL Sport