Sport

FOOTBALL

Banyana Banyana clip the wings of Super Falcons to clinch Aisha Buhari Cup

Banyana Banyana clip the wings of Super Falcons to clinch Aisha Buhari Cup
Banyana Banyana players celebrate after their victory over Nigeria in the Aisha Buhari Cup in Lagos on Tuesday. (Photo: Twitter / @Banyana_Banyana)

Banyana Banyana were crowned the first champions of the invitational women’s football tournament, the Aisha Buhari Cup, as they beat hosts Nigeria in the final.

South Africa met Nigeria in the final of the inaugural Aisha Buhari Cup tournament, with Banyana Banyana walking away with the bragging rights over their continental rivals after sealing a 4-2 victory. 

It was an enthralling, end-to-end affair which demonstrated the strides that women’s football continues to make in Africa. 

Both teams came into the encounter having won their opening games, with the hosts beating Mali 2-0 in the opening match of the competition while South Africa put the Black Queens of Ghana to the sword, winning 3-0. 

Nigeria’s Super Falcons knew exactly what to expect from their southern African opposition, but they still couldn’t contain a Banyana Banyana side which swarmed them like hornets from the first whistle.  

“South Africa has very fast attackers, but we will stop them and we must break into their defence to get our goals,” Super Falcons forward Ngozi Okobi-Okeoghene had said in the build-up to the match. 

Still, with that knowledge of how coach Desiree Ellis’s team would attack them, the Nigerians could not halt the onslaught, and the South Africans raced into a 3-0 lead by halftime. 

An own goal by Michelle Alozie, as well as an expertly dispatched penalty by Sweden-based playmaker Linda Motlhalo and a header by JVW’s Gabriela Salgado saw Banyana Banyana head into the break with their tails up, the hosts along with the home crowd left in disbelief following Banyana’s 45-minute blitzkrieg. 

The fleet-footed Thembi Kgatlana, who plies her trade for Atletico Madrid in Spain, was at the centre of all things positive for South Africa in the first half. The Nigerian defence struggled to keep tabs on her, which opened spaces for her teammates.  

In the second half the home side, still smarting from a disappointing first half showing in front of their home support, emerged more disciplined and compact. They were assisted by the South Africans easing the pressure on the accelerator. 

Nigeria’s coach, Randy Waldrum, made changes at the interval, including putting on Rivers Angels star Vivian Ikechukwu. The winger wasted no time, scoring twice in seven minutes at the beginning of the second half as the hosts attempted to mount a comeback. 

However, the South Africans were able to regain their composure and dictate the pace of the game once more. They effectively put the contest to bed when the skilful Motlhalo was brought down in the box with six minutes to play. 

Substitute Mamello Makhabane stepped up to slot in South Africa’s second penalty of the day, handing Banyana sweet victory over their bitter rivals and Africa’s top-ranked women’s side in their own backyard. 

“This is a wonderful group of players. They deserve it all. This is for all the coaches back home, all the players back home, the clubs back home; they contribute. Everybody involved in women’s football,” said a visibly ecstatic Elllis after the game.  

“We’re making a lot of strides. We said we wanted to test ourselves. And the best way to test ourselves is against the best. The character shown and the confidence shown by this group of players to raise their game and go toe-to-toe with Nigeria in Nigeria, it’s a sight to behold. 

“We’re very excited. But we’re not going to stop here. We’re going to continue working. We’re going to take it step by step [because] there’s still a lot of room for improvement… at times we gave the ball away.”  

The last time the two teams met in a competitive match was at the Africa Women’s Cup of Nations final in 2018, where the Super Falcons edged Ellis’s charges 4-3 on penalties to clinch the continental title. 

Now the focus for Banyana will shift to the defence of their Cosafa Cup crown, which they’ve won for four years running. They bid farewell to almost all their overseas-based contingent, barring captain Janine van Wyk. 

South Africa open their Group A campaign against Malawi on 28 September, before a clash with Angola three days later. They close out their pool play on 4 October against Mozambique. Only the top team in each pool and the best-placed runner-up qualify for the semifinals. DM

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