Cape Town — Banyana Banyana, perennial bridesmaids after five runner-up slots, have roared a championship challenge in the Monday's night opening gambit at the Women's Africa Cup of Nations (WAFCON) in Morocco.
The last of these five silver-medal finishes was achieved at the previous event in 2018 when Banyana held Nigeria to a goalless draw in the championship round clash. However, Nigeria triumphed in the penalty shoot-out and won a final for the 11th time at 13 tournaments.
Monday's clash between Nigeria, Africa's No 1 ranked team, and South Africa ranked No 3, was billed as the 'final before the final' and the projection could well come true when the championship round clash is played on Saturday 23 July. The two Pool C teams should advance from the group stage and the form book suggests that Nigeria and South Africa will reach the final.
However, there is so much that can be read in South Africa's dominant performance against Nigeria which were outplayed for the second successive time by Banyana. In their previous clash, Banyana defeated the Super Falcons convincingly 4-2 to claim the Aisha Buhari Cup title in the Nigerian capital Lagos.
The result marked the first time in the history of the Super Falcons that the team conceded four goals in a match, and to add insult to injury it happened on their home patch.
Prior to the start of the WAFCON in Morocco, several Banyana players predicted that given the number of South Africans plying their trade abroad the national team has gone from strength to strength and confidence continues to soar.
The current squad have nine players who are based abroad in Spain (4), Belarus, Italy, Portugal, Sweden and South Korea. The Swedish-based Linda Motlhalo dubbed the ‘Randfontein Ronaldinho' plays for Djurgardens and was Monday's 'Player of the Match' after an authoritative display in the side's engine room.
The Portugal-based Jermaine Seoposenwe, who scored the opening goal in the match, plays as a striker for Portuguese Campeonato Nacional Feminino club SC Braga. He returned to the national team after a two-year absence and has proved to be a valuable player. National team coach Desiree Ellis said afterwards that, for tactical purposes, Seoposenwe's role in the match was changed four times.
She scored the goal with clinical precision as she landed a clean strike in the firing zone.
The second goal was scored by substitute Hildah Magaia who showed a great turn of speed in front of Nigeria's posts after she latched on to a defence-splitting pass. She plays in South Korea for Sejong Sportstoto. Since she started on the substitutes' bench it may be an indication of the depth in the squad that a player of her calibre is not in the starting line-up.
Presently there are 27 South African female players abroad and most of them are professional. The cream of the crop is Refiloe who plays for AC Milan in the Italian Serie A Women's League and Thembi Kgatlana who plays as a forward for Spanish Primera División club Atlético Madrid.
The performance of Banyana is a testament to the sterling efforts of the South African Football Association (SAFA) to develop women's football, and all that remains now is for the national team to finally win gold in the championship round.