Banyana training session at Wits Stadium. Photo: Pic Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix
Banyana training session at Wits Stadium. Photo: Pic Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix

No Olympics for Banyana Banyana but team is focused on the bigger picture

By Mihlali Baleka Time of article published Apr 13, 2021

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JOHANNESBURG - Although Banyana Banyana will miss out on the Olympic Games this year for the first time since their maiden qualification in 2012, the players are doing their part to ensure that the bigger picture set out by coach Desiree Ellis is a success.

After not assembling for more than a year, the senior women’s national team got together again at the association’s technical centre, FunValley, last month for a regeneration camp.

After not assembling for more than a year, the senior women’s national team got together again at the association’s technical centre, FunValley, last month for a regeneration camp.

But it was during the current Fifa break that they tasted competitive action.

Banyana hosted Zambia on Saturday in the first of two friendlies at the Bidvest Stadium, where they ran riot over the Copper Queens, coming from behind to win 3-1 thanks to a brace from Noko Matlou and a solo goal from Eibar teammate Thembi Kgatlana.

“It was a fantastic game from my teammates – and myself,” said Banyana captain Andile Dlamini.

“We worked extremely hard and did everything that the coach said we must do. We pulled them to one side, considering that they were ball orientated and wanted to use the spaces.”

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The South Africans are back in action today, hosting Botswana at Bidvest (3pm kick-off). These friendlies are to prepare Banyana for the Cosafa Championship and Africa Women’s Cup of Nations qualifiers later this year.

After winning the Cosafa title on multiple occasions, Ellis has targeted the ultimate prize: the continental crown.

In 2018, they came close, finishing as runners-up after losing to rivals Nigeria in the final after a penalty shootout.

With the continental showpiece extended from eight to 12 teams, the top four finishers are guaranteed a spot at the 2023 Fifa Women’s World Cup.

Dlamini, who played in her maiden World Cup in 2019, says an impressive display in the friendlies is part of preparing for their long-term goals.

“Honestly, what we are focusing on is the bigger picture, taking baby steps and winning these friendlies. These friendlies are preparing us for the bigger picture, a picture which the coach and her technical team have drawn up for us.”

Banyana only have three overseas-based players – Matlou, Kgatlana and Amanda Mthandi – in camp for the two friendlies after the majority of clubs refused to release their players, citing Covid-19 implications, including more than a week of self-isolation.

Nonetheless, Damini says she’s been pleased with the contribution of the trio, given that they’ve gelled with the locally-based players. And they’ll be hoping to continue that momentum heading to their clash against Botswana this afternoon.

Botswana are responsible for ensuring that Banyana didn’t qualify for the Tokyo Olympics after that penalty shootout win in the qualifiers at Orlando Stadium late in 2019.

But the South Africans will be out to improve in Braamfontein, instead of searching for revenge.

“Honestly, we played Botswana in the Cosafa Cup, and Tokyo was way back. We did our best to focus on the game, and on Tuesday it’s not a different game compared to the match against Zambia. We need to focus on the bigger picture,” Dlamini said.

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