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Banyana Banyana shift gears during Women’s World Cup preparations

Banyana Banyana shift gears during Women’s World Cup preparations
Sphumelele Shamase of South Africa during the Cosafa Women's Championship semifinal match between South Africa and Namibia at Isaac Wolfson Stadium on 9 September 2022 in Gqeberha, South Africa. (Photo: Richard Huggard /Gallo Images)

Banyana Banyana are just a few days away from facing Serbia in an international friendly that serves as preparation for the fast-approaching Women’s World Cup.

Banyana Banyana are gearing up for their latest litmus test ahead of just their second Fifa Women’s World Cup appearance – after making their debut four years ago.

South Africa’s senior women’s soccer side will tackle Serbia on Monday, 10 April 2023 – in the Serbians’ backyard. The match is part of the team’s preparations for the World Cup hosted by Australia and New Zealand from 20 July.

The team is scheduled to depart for the European country on Thursday, 6 April and coach Desiree Ellis has announced a team stacked with experienced campaigners as well as players hoping to establish themselves in the team.

“It’s always good to have European opposition. Playing outside [the comfort zone] of our country is awesome for us and for our preparations,” Kaylin Swart, one of the veterans of the side, told Daily Maverick at the team’s media day on Wednesday.

“This game is just for us to impose ourselves. We want to implement everything we’ve been doing at training. We’ve been working a lot on the defensive side of our game, which is obviously very important heading into the World Cup. The game is for us to tick a few more boxes so close to the World Cup,” the JVW goalkeeper added.

“Hopefully everything we’ve been working on we can execute in the game, and hopefully get a positive result.”

The South Africans played in an invitational tournament hosted by Turkey in February and managed to avoid defeat in both their matches – beating Uzbekistan 3-0 and drawing 1-1 with eventual runners-up Slovenia.

Both teams are ranked in the top 50, with Banyana sitting just outside, in 54th place on the latest rankings.

Nothando Vilakazi of South Africa during the Cosafa Women’s Championship semifinal match between South Africa and Namibia at Isaac Wolfson Stadium on 9 September 2022 in Gqeberha, South Africa. (Photo: Richard Huggard / Gallo Images)

Growing pains

Following their maiden Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (Wafcon) success in 2022, Banyana Banyana tested their powers against opposition in and around the top 10 of the global rankings.

They faced Brazil (twice) and Australia, and lost all of those matches emphatically.

Those results showed just how far the team still needs to rise. Especially if they are at least to make the teams of the quality they have recently faced sweat for victory, or defeat them.

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Across all three of those friendly encounters, Ellis’s team made mistakes that were heavily punished. In both their encounters against Brazil, the players were directly culpable for mistakes that were punished by the quality opposition. The result was a 9-0 aggregate drubbing for the African champions.

In the 4-1 loss to 2023 World Cup co-hosts Australia, it was again individual mistakes that resulted in defeat. According to Swart, they learnt harshly from those results and are ready to rectify their errors this year.

“We cannot compare Africa to the rest of the World. It’s a totally different ball game. Yes, we won Wafcon. And then there were a couple of tough games after that. Fatigue did kick in a bit, but there aren’t any excuses. We have to be better as a team. Hence we’ve been working on our defensive side… Because we have the ambition to get out of our World Cup group,” she told Daily Maverick.

The team has suffered some setbacks in the lead-up to the trip to Serbia. Defenders Bambanani Mbane and Tiisetso Makhubela withdrew from the camp owing to the illness of close family members.

Forward Nthabiseng Majiya picked up an injury over the weekend and has also been forced to withdraw from the camp. DM

Banyana Banyana squad:

Goalkeepers: Andile Dlamini, Kaylin Swart, Regirl Ngobeni 

Defenders: Karabo Dhlamini, Fikile Magama, Lonathemba Mhlongo, Noko Matlou, Bongeka Gamede 

Midfielders: Refiloe Jane, Sibulele Holweni, Linda Mothlalo, Kholosa Biyana, Nomvula Kgoale, Robyn Moodaly 

Forwards: Noxolo Cesane, Gabriela Salgado, Sphumelele Shamase, Hildah Magaia, Lelona Daweti, Wendy Shongwe

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