Banyana Banyana shape up ahead of the Aisha Buhari Cup
Banyana Banyana’s time on the pitch has been hampered by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the squad will try to return to the level that saw them reach the 2019 Fifa World Cup.
First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.
South Africa’s senior women’s national football is set to become a hive of activity in the coming months. It is part of the Aisha Buhari Cup, an invitational tournament in Lagos, Nigeria, where the crème de la crème of African women’s football will fight it out for bragging rights.
Banyana Banyana, who are in Group B of the six-team tournament, will face Ghana and Cameroon. The hosts and Africa’s top-ranked side in the Fifa rankings, Nigeria will face off with Mali and Morocco in Group A.
The competition will run from 15 to 21 September.
The two top teams in each group will proceed to the semifinals, with the winners of the respective groups taking on the second-placed sides of the other group.
The tournament will be used by these sides as preparation for qualifiers of the 2022 Africa Women’s Cup of Nations (Awcon), which will kick off in late October.
“We just see it like we are playing the Africa Cup [of] Nations again because I see it’s the same teams that will likely be playing in the Awcon that will play in this competition,” said Nigeria’s defensive stalwart, Onome Ebi on the Buhari Cup.
“I think that will really help in preparing the team because the qualifying games will be in October. This tournament in September will help all the teams to prepare in their qualifying games against their opponents.”
Banyana Banyana assemble
For Desiree Ellis’s side, their appearance in the Buhari Cup will be closely followed by the regional Cosafa Cup, an annual tournament they are aiming to win for a fifth time.
In 2020, they defeated Botswana 2-1 to seal a four-peat of Cosafa titles. The squad consisted of locally based players as the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent restrictions allowed the long-serving Banyana Banyana coach a chance to deepen her pool of players.
For the Buhari Cup, Ellis has called on several overseas-based players who haven’t had a chance to don the Banyana jersey since the 2019 Fifa Women’s World Cup.
This includes defenders Lebogang Ramalepe of Dinamo Minsk in Belarus and stalwart Janine van Wyk (Glasgow City), midfielders Refiloe Jane (AC Milan) and Linda Motlhalo, who plays for Djurgardens in Sweden, plus forwards Thembi Kgatlana (Atletico Madrid) and Hildah Magaia, who plies her trade for Swiss side Moron BK.
The Banyana Banyana coach said the Buhari Cup was ideal preparation for the Awcon qualifiers and an opportunity to look at Banyana’s players based overseas.
“We have the Buhari Cup, the Cosafa Cup and the Awcon. We have already worked on what we think we will need over the next two months. Consistency and regular game time are always key as we are trying to make sure that we have covered our bases but the first tournament [Aisha Buhari Cup] will dictate what happens next,” said Ellis.
“It is an opportunity to test ourselves after having missed a lot of football over the last 18 months, both locally and internationally. It’s also an opportunity to have a look at some of the overseas-based players we have not seen since 2019 due to Covid-19 protocols and quarantine regulations in the countries where they are currently playing.”
The 58-year-old former Banyana Banyana midfielder said that, despite last seeing her players in April 2021, when they played and won friendlies against Zambia and Botswana, she is happy with what she has seen since they gathered for training.
Banyana Banyana were meant to play a friendly against the Netherlands in July. But that fixture had to be called off after a Covid-19 breakout within their camp forced the whole delegation into isolation.
“You can see that they have been playing. The level of fitness is what we reasonably expected,” said Ellis. “As the week goes by, we will concentrate more on specifics and obviously conditioning before we travel. I was also very happy with the new players [who] came in; they don’t look like they are too far behind as well.
“We are extremely happy with what we’ve seen. We will continue from here. With restarts, players always think they are doing nothing, but it takes into account what they have done over the last few days, especially the players coming from Mamelodi Sundowns. We have to manage the players in camp to make sure we keep them fresh, but also to make sure they get some work in.”
Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies, who lead the domestic Hollywoodbets Super League and are yet to taste defeat, recently won the inaugural CAF Champions League regional qualifiers and will represent southern Africa when the eight-team continental competition takes place in Egypt later this year. Stalwart Bambanani Mbane and striker Melinda Kgadiete are representing Masandawana in Ellis’s 18-woman squad.
With competition being so tight during the Buhari Cup, the strong squad picked by the Banyana coach will at least be confident of reaching the knockout stages. Although pushing all the way for ultimate victory is not a far-fetched target for Banyana, who are ranked third on the African continent.
The South Africans will begin their bid to reach the Awcon event against Mozambique in late October. The two nations are also in the same group for the Cosafa Cup, which will again be held in the Eastern Cape, as it was last year. The Cosafa competition kicks off on 28 September and will run until 9 October. South Africa and Mozambique are in Group A, along with Malawi and Angola. DM168
BANYANA SQUAD FOR AISHA BUHARI CUP
Kaylin Swart (JVW FC), Regirl Ngobeni (University of Western Cape)
Lebogang Ramalepe (Dinamo Minsk), Janine van Wyk (Glasgow City), Tiisetso Makhubele (Tshwane University of Technology), Bambanani Mbane (Mamelodi Sundowns), Koketso Tlailane (Tshwane University of Technology FC)
Ongeziwe Ndlangisa (Sunflower FC), Mamello Makhabane (JVW FC), Refiloe Jane (AC Milan), Linda Motlhalo (Djurgardens FC), Robyn Moodaly (JVW FC) Noxolo Cesane (University of Western Cape), Gabriela Salgado (JVW FC)
Sibulele Holweni (University of Western Cape), Melinda Kgadiete (Mamelodi Sundowns FC), Hildah Magaia (Moron BK), Thembi Kgatlana (Atletico Madrid)
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.