Olympics: Banyana's baptism of fire
Banyana Banyana got their Olympic qualifier off to a rough start, losing 4-1 to Sweden on Wednesday. It’s a rough start for the women’s team and the ride is only going to get bumpier. By ANT SIMS.
The Olympics’ opening ceremony will only take place on Friday, but Banyana Banyana started their quest to defy the odds on Wednesday when they played Sweden in their Olympic opener.
The South African women’s team is taking part in the Games for the first time, and it was a disastrous start for Banyana, who reached 3-0 within 21 minutes. Marie Hammarstrom hit the crossbar just four minutes into the game and two minutes later, Caroline Seger had pushed forward and hit the woodwork again. Sweden opened their scoring just seven minutes into the game, when Nilla Discher's shot from the edge took a deflection to bounce over the diving Roxanne Barker.
Banyana played much more powerfully in the second half, and Portia Modise pulled back a goal with a fantastic chip from inside the Swedish half, which sailed over the Swedish keeper's head, but the joy didn't last long as Sweden added a fourth goal just a three minutes later.
It’s a tough debut for the women’s team, but after booking their place in the Olympics in September last year after drawing with Ethiopia in a qualifying match, the team has remained bullish about their prospects. Coach Joseph Mkhonza insisted on Tuesday that his players would rise to the challenge.
“We have known since we beat Ethiopia in September last year that we were going to play at the Olympics, so I don’t believe the moment will be too big for our players," Mkhonza said.
The moment was too big for Banyana, though, and while Sweden were rampant and are serious medal contenders, the South African team looked shaky and nervous throughout the first half. They struggled to create clear-cut chances, and their quest will only get tougher from here on in – they play Canada on Sunday and will have to face off against world champions Japan on Tuesday.
Amanda Dlamini, however, believes that the mere fact that Banyana qualified is already a huge honour.
“The mere fact that you’re an Olympian – whether you win or lose – is something that no one can ever take away from you. It’s a big achievement and I think that it’s very important that we should embrace every moment of this tournament,” said Dlamini.
“This is an opportunity and I just feel that we should embrace it and not look back. We’ve worked really hard to be where we are.”
Banyana haven’t got much time to regroup before they play Canada, and Dlamini knows the challenge posed by their group is not a small one.
“There’s no easy game for us in this group. All the teams are in the top 10 in the world, but for us, it gives us a bit of a dark horse impression,” the skipper said.
“We’re going out there to fight. I think everyone has been preaching the word that if we perform to our level best then that is good enough for the country.
“We’ve qualified and made them proud, and the only thing we can do is represent them proudly.”
Elsewhere in Group F, Japan beat Canada 2-1, while in Group E, Great Britain beat New Zealand 1-0 and Brazil thumped Cameroon 5-0. In Group G, United States beat France 4-2. South Africa are at the bottom of Group F, while Sweden is at the top on goal difference. DM
Photo: Sweden's Linda Sembrant (2) and Hedvig Lindahl (C) fight for the ball with South Africa's Portia Modise (bottom C) and Noko Matlou (11) during their women's Group F football match at the London 2012 Olympic Games in Coventry July 25, 2012. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo