Banyana Banyana ace Thembi Kgatlana says they want to make up for lost time in the 2024 Olympics qualifiers following their shortcomings in the last edition.
Banyana will face the Democratic Republic of Congo in their first round of the Olympic qualifiers. The first leg is in Kinshasa on Wednesday and the return leg is in Orlando next Monday.
The Desiree Ellis’ coached team missed out of the last quadrennial global showpiece, having fallen to rivals Botswana in the qualifiers in 2019, but a lot has happened since.
“I think the fact that we didn’t go into the last Olympics is going to push us to work hard and have a chance of going through,” Kgatlana said.
“Not just in football, but in life you must learn from your setbacks. I think it was bitter for us not to qualify for the Olympics the last time.
“We’ve learnt our lesson. I don’t think that we are going to underestimate anyone. We have momentum after the Wafcon triumph, and World Cup performance.”
Indeed, Banyana have learnt their lessons. They won the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations crown and finished in the last 16 in this year’s World Cup after that heart-break in Orlando.
But amid all those triumphs, they’ll be the team in the qualifiers, something that will require them to dig deep if they reach the finals of the Paris Summer Games.
Banyana will miss a few key players for the two matches this week, owing to eventualities such as injuries, visa issues and exam schedule — for the local based players.
Refiloe Jane is still out injured, Mexican-based striker Jermanine Seoposenwe is only set to be available for the return leg, while Fikile Magama’s exam will clash with the return leg.
But, speaking at Sasol League National Championships in Bloemfontein this week, Kgatlana says Ellis has assembled a strong 25-member squad that should beat the DRC.
“It’s sad that we don’t have our key players in the squad because of injuries. But we shouldn’t use that as an excuse. We assembled a good team,” Kgatlana added.
“I believe that everyone who’s in the team is going to help us and learn from the players that are there. It’s always tough to play outside of South Africa.
“But that’s not an excuse because the majority of senior players in the team have played outside of South Africa against their African counterparts.”
Banyana will bid farewell to one of the icons of African football during the upcoming qualifiers, defender Janine Van Wyk having called time on her international career.
Van Wyk is the second most internationally capped player (183), both male and female, on the continent as she is a cap behind Egypt’s Ahmed Hassan.
And should she play both matches against the DRC, Van Wyk, 36, will etch her name in the history books, leapfrogging the retired Hassan, 48, to the No 1 spot.
Kgatlana, who was welcomed by Van Wyk in the national team, says players, who’ve sacrificed a lot for the country and families - like the latter — duly deserved to be honoured.
“It’s not just for Janine, but for anyone that has served the national team and is in the future still going to — I think it’s important to honour them,” Kgatlana explained.
“They’ve made a lot of sacrifices for their country and families. So, I think it’s befitting that Janine got the call-up as she can retire as the highest capped player, men and woman, in Africa.”
* Mihlali is in Bloemfontein, covering the National Champs, courtesy of Sasol