Malawi send Banyana crashing out of Cosafa Women’s Championship
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Cape Town – The South African national women's team Banyana Banyana crashed out the 2021 Council of Southern Africa Football Associations (COSAFA) Women's Championship after they were shocked by Malawi, the 3-2 winners in Thursday's semi-final at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, in Gqeberha.
Malawi will now advance to the final on Saturday at the same venue. They will play Tanzania, who earlier on Thursday defeated Zambia 3-2 on penalties after the scores were tied 1-all, at the end of regulation time.
Banyana Banyana has won seven of the past eight editions of the competition and were tipped for yet another conquest. Instead, they will play in the third-place play-off, also on Saturday.
Poor clearances from set-piece play proved the undoing of both teams in the first half. First, Malawi scored after defender Ruth Nyirongo flicked on a free-kick into the Banyana Banyana penalty area. Striker Fazila Chembekezo rose above the Banyana Banyana defence and headed the ball past backpedalling goalkeeper Kaylin Swart in the 37th minute, to open the scoring against the run of play.
Banyana Banyana looked to respond soon afterwards with a pressure spell, which Malawi contained until a minute into added first half time. A Banyana Banyana free-kick close to the halfway provided the springboard for the equaliser after Malawi made a hash of clearing the ball.
Instead of decisive defence, Malawi tried to clear their lines with short passes, which backfired when they lost the ball. Banyana Banyana's goalmouth poacher supreme Sibulele Holweni pounced on the stray ball, turned one defender inside out and rifled a shot against the underside of the crossbar and into the goals.
The uncompromising first half was marked by a nervy start from Banyana Banyana, who were surprised by Malawi's spirited display in the opening minutes. Malawi was perhaps too rushed to make an impact earlier on, but they did sound a warning that they would be a force to be reckoned with.
Banyana Banyana slowed down early play with a crisp inter-passing game that took the sting out of Malawi when they were forced to defend. The ploy may have paid dividends after Malawi’s defence was caught napping and failed to clear a 24th-minute goalmouth cross from Holweni. The unmarked Melinda Kgadiete hesitated when the ball reached her, and her shot was blocked.
A rejigged Banyana Banyana side took the field for second-half play. Holweni was brought into a central role, and striker Gabriela Salgado was switched from the right to the left flank. The change was not effective from the start, but as play wound towards the hour mark, Banyana Banyana threatened a further score.
Several half-chances fell by the wayside as Malawi absorbed the pressure, but there were hints that score was imminent. Salgado rounded the Malawi defence in the 69th minute but her promising sortie came to nought when Kgadiete's powderpuff shot was collected by goalkeeper Ruth Mhango.
Malawi turned the match on its head with a shock goal in the 73rd minute. For the first time in the tournament, Banyana Banyana conceded two goals in the match, after Sabinah Thom scored.
Eswatini referee Letticia Viana awarded Banyana Banyana a penalty 11 minutes from the end, and Holweni made no mistake from the 'spot' for the equaliser.
Just when the match was poised for a penalty shoot-out, Thom again intervened with a goal and this time there was no comeback from Banyana Banyana.