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Banyana will fight like soldiers to win Awcon, says sta...

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AFRICA WOMEN'S CUP OF NATIONS

Banyana will fight like soldiers to win Awcon, says star Mbane

Linda Motlhalo of South Africa during the 2022 Africa Women Cup of Nations qualifier match between South Africa and Algeria at Orlando Stadium on February 18, 2022 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images)

SA are chasing a maiden Africa Women’s Cup of Nations title.

Who will be the last team standing when the Africa Women’s Cup of Nations (Awcon) concludes on 23 July? Banyana Banyana defender Bambanani Mbane hopes it will be South Africa.

The Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies defender, who is the country’s reigning female Footballer of the Year, as voted for by the South African Football Journalists’ Association, is one of five players from her club in the Banyana squad in Morocco.

The others are number one shot stopper Andile Dlamini, 21-year-old Karabo Dhlamini, midfield anchor Thalea Smidt and forward Melinda Kgadiete.

Bambanani Nolufefe Mbane of South Africa during the COSAFA Women’s Championship match between South Africa and Madagascar at Wolfson Stadium on August 05, 2019 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. (Photo by Richard Huggard/Gallo Images)

Juice, as Mbane is known to her teammates, feels the experience of the quintet from the reigning African club champions will play an important role in helping Banyana push for a maiden Awcon title.

“One thing I like about Sundowns is that everyone is hungry for success in the team. It’s the home of champions,” Mbane said prior to the team’s departure for Morocco.

“When you’re playing with such people, who have success at the forefront of their minds at all times, you’re motivated to be a better player. It injects you with that winning mentality.”

The 32-year-old no-nonsense defender was integral to Sundowns winning the inaugural CAF Women’s Champions League in 2021 – adding another feather to a brimming cap. Those feathers include appearances at the Olympics and the Fifa World Cup and silverware from a stint in Belarus.

But she wants more

Mbane will be ravenous for more success when Banyana tackle the tournament’s Group C, which includes defending champions Nigeria, neighbours Botswana and tournament debutants Burundi.

“I’m the type of player who wants to win every competition I participate in. Winning motivates me. The more I win, the hungrier I am to win even more,” she said.

“So, heading into Awcon, I’ll be even more motivated; especially because I know what the whole team is aiming for, and the country as well. We are one of the teams that are trusted by the nation to win.”

The first Awcon of the Covid-19 era has been expanded from eight teams to 12.

This means pursuit of continental glory gives South Africa an extra hurdle to leap, a quarterfinal, compared to the last edition in 2018, when they were beaten by the Nigerians in the final.

Mbane is unperturbed: “That [extra match] means we’ll have some pressure on us. But we must be able to handle that pressure and not be distracted from the main goal – to win the tournament. We know it won’t be easy, but we are going to push.

“The coach sat us down, because there is a mix of experienced players and some younger players in the group. She told us that, as the senior players, we must guide the younger players. It’s our responsibility to show them what is expected at this level. Everyone must be ready mentally. But the team spirit is amazing. We will fight like soldiers to bring the trophy home.”

A newcomer is excited and nervous

One Banyana cadet soaking up Mbane’s abundant wisdom is the youngest member of Desiree Ellis’s team, Nthabiseng Majiya.

The 18-year-old starlet from Richmond United, who play in the top-flight Hollywoodbets Super League, is bubbling with  both excitement and nerves.

“I am learning from the senior players as to how I should prepare myself,” said the young forward.

“I have to say the intensity is very high here, but I am getting there and I am pushing a lot. I am excited, but nervous because this is my first experience in the national team. I just want to win the tournament and make our country proud.”

PLAYERS TO WATCH AT AWCON 2022

Linda Motlhalo (South Africa)

One does not easily earn comparison to one of the greatest players. So, Linda Motlhalo’s nickname “the Randfontein Ronaldinho” is indicative of the influence she has on a team.

Though Bambanani Mbane’s defensive wiliness will be priceless and Thembi Kgatlana’s eye for goal crucial, Motlhalo’s vision and creativity from midfield will be a critical ingredient if Banyana are to concoct a winning recipe in Morocco.

Linda Motlhalo of South Africa during the 2022 Africa Women Cup of Nations qualifier match between South Africa and Algeria at Orlando Stadium on February 18, 2022 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images)

The No 10, who plays for Swedish side Djurgardens, is one of the first names on the Banyana team sheet. On a good day, her precision passing and eye for goal have the potential to torture opposition defenders.

Asisat Oshoala (Nigeria)

The Banyana defenders will need to be at their sharpest to foil Barcelona forward Asisat Oshoala.

The striker is undoubtedly one of the best African players currently active, and is considered one of the best the continent has produced – male or female. The 27-year-old  has been Africa’s Player of the Year on no fewer than four occasions (2019, 2014, 2016 and 2017).

LAGOS, NIGERIA – SEPTEMBER 15: Oshoala Asisat of Nigeria during the Aisha Buhari Cup match between Nigeria and Mali at Mobolaji Johnson Stadium on September 15, 2021 in Lagos, Nigeria. (Photo by Segun Ogunfeyitimi/Gallo Images)

In 2021/2022, as Barcelona raced to a perfect league campaign – winning all 30 games – Oshoala was the centrepiece.

The forward became the first African woman to win the top goalscorer gong in the Spanish Primera Division since it began in 2011, netting 20 times for the champions.

Her compatriots will be hoping she brings that sort of form to Morocco, where the Nigerians will be looking to add another crown to their record haul of 11.

Barbara Banda (Zambia)

The 22-year-old Zambian forward announced herself to the football world when she became the first footballer in Olympic history to score back-to-back hat-tricks at the Tokyo Olympics in Japan.

Barbara Banda of Zambia and Noko Matlou of South Africa during the Women’s International Friendly match between South Africa and Zambia at Bidvest Stadium on April 10, 2021, in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Lee Warren/Gallo Images)

She was among the two Africans listed among The Guardian’s Top 100 Female Footballers of the Year 2021 following her exploits for Chinese Super League side Shanghai Shengli in her debut season. After that, she became the league’s top scorer, with 18 goals in 13 league matches. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.

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