Banyana Banyana banking on ‘big players’ for Nigeria Olympics decider

Striker Thembi Kgatlana scored the decisive goal for Banyana Banyana against Tanzania on Tuesday night. Photo: BackpagePix

Striker Thembi Kgatlana scored the decisive goal for Banyana Banyana against Tanzania on Tuesday night. Photo: BackpagePix

Published Feb 29, 2024


Now that Banyana Banyana have reached the final round of the 2024 CAF Women’s Olympic qualifying, the sole focus will be attaining an aggregate win over traditional foes Nigeria in April.

Banyana hardly had time to savour their 1-0 win over Tanzania, thanks to Thembi Kgatlana’s 58th-minute goal, in Tuesday night’s third round, second leg qualifying tie at Mbombela Stadium – which saw them advance 4-0 on aggregate – when national team coach Desiree Ellis dealt with the cloud of expectation hanging over the camp.

During their qualifying campaign in the past few days, Banyana were continually reminded that the team failed to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which took place in 2021 due to Covid-19.

Many of the players in that squad are members of the current national team, and the reminders do not sit well with the players.

Ellis said the technical team will meet in the next day or two to decide on training initiatives and preparations for the Nigeria clash.

This will ensure that the resolve to qualify for Paris is embedded into her team’s DNA ahead of the two-legged tie in April.

“It will be do or die against Nigeria,” said Ellis in a pitch-side interview while jubilant fans at the Mbombela Stadium sang Shosholoza.

“We want to have an early camp. We will improve our chances when we prepare early and very well.

“Everyone is up for it (the Nigeria clash), having missed out on the 2020 Olympics.

“This qualifying for the Paris Games is the biggest goal for us this year, and the Wafcon later in the year. We will be ready because we will prepare well.”

Ellis was forced to face Tanzania without a few of her trump cards. Seasoned players such as skipper Refiloe Jane, Bambanani Mbane, Bongeka Gamede and Sibulele Holweni were unavailable.

Ellis is hopeful that these players will be back in the mix for the crucial final qualifier tie against Nigeria on April 1 (away) and April 9 (home).

“I am not afraid to play Nigeria with the players who are here, but players are coming back from injuries,’’ said Ellis.

“Bongeka, Bambanani, Refiloe and Sibulele are still missing. Those are big players.

“Refiloe was close to coming to camp, and Bambanani is already training with her team, so we look forward to the game against Nigeria.’’

Tuesday night’s match marked a career milestone for striker Jermaine Seoposenwe, who raked in her 100th cap for Banyana Banyana.

She plays for Monterrey FC in Mexico, and has become a linchpin in the team who knows what to expect from Nigeria.

“We embrace the pressure and look forward to the game against Nigeria,” said Seoposenwe.

“It’s not going to be easy, but we will be gunning for that spot to go to the Olympics. Hopefully, we have Bambanani and Fifi (Refiloe) back, because we need them.

“It’s been 14 years for me being part of the national team, and everyone has played such a big role in my journey. I thank God for sparing me this long in the national team.

“The coach gave a lot of young players an opportunity. She’s trying to build a team and get more depth in the team. So, that kind of messed with our flow a little bit.

“But at the end of the day, you need to allow players to see what it’s like to play at this level. Players need to get that experience.

“Overall, we controlled the game. It was a little scrappy here and there but we always had control.”