If there were teams still not preparing to take Banyana Banyana seriously at the Fifa World Cup later this year, they will certainly start taking notice after their performance in the Winnie Madikizela-Mandela Challenge match against the Netherlands on a balmy Saturday afternoon at Cape Town Stadium.
The recent African Women’s Cup of Nations runners-up may have gone down 2-1 to the Netherlands, but there were enough positive passages to play from the SA national women’s team to suggest they will be heading to France to make up more than just the numbers.
After a tentative start by the home side, which saw them concede two early goals within the first 20 minutes with Sherida Spitsa and Vivien Miedema taking full advantage through two neat strikes that left goalkeeper Kaylin Swart stranded on both occasions, Banyana found their rhythm.
It was if the goals were the wake-up call that Desiree Ellis’s team needed for the Dutch were not only leading on the scoreboard, but also dominating possession and territory.
Spitsa, who plays her football for Valerenga in Norway, was very influential during this period for the European champions, adding a destructive element in the midfield on top of the goal she drove into the top right corner. Banyana’s Jermaine Seoposenwe was one of Spitsa’s victims with the striker feeling the full force a brutal tackle.
However, even the top teams in the world are guilty of committing errors, and that’s when Banyana pounced like a hyena in the dark. After previously having starved of possession upfront, a wayward back-pass from the visitors was just the sniff Banyana’s Africa Women’s Player of the Year Thembi Kgatlana needed to make her mark on the game.
Utilising her incredible speed, Kgatlana ran through and picked up the loose ball to close in on the Dutch goal, before calmly rounding Arsenal’s Dutch shot-stopper Sari van Veenendaal to half the deficit.
Although the imperious Spitsa continued her hard work in the midfield, and even struck the crossbar on the stroke of half-time, the momentum was now certainly with Banyana.
Even the disruption of having to replace captain Janine van Wyk early in the second half after the skipper took a number of body blows could not stem Banyana’s flowing movement on the ball.
They were comfortably the dominant team of the second stanza, creating a number of chances to level the score. The most clear-cut opportunity, though, fell to the feet of Seoposenwe, who was put clean through on the Dutch goal.
Unfortunately for the 15 000 strong crowd that had come through the turnstiles at the former 2010 Fifa World Cup venue, Seoposenwe could not keep her composure and fluffed the chance to equalise.
The Dutch showed their experience in the final minutes to close out the game and hang on for the victory, but Ellis, who made a number of substitutions towards the end, would have been pleased with her charges display although she would possibly be ruing a golden opportunity to have put one over a major European football nation.