Sport

DO-OR-DIE MATCH

Banyana Banyana ready to rumble in crunch World Cup tie against Italy

Banyana Banyana ready to rumble in crunch World Cup tie against Italy
Martina Lenzini of Italy in action against Sweden during their World Cup Group G clash at Wellington Regional Stadium in New Zealand on 29 July 2023. (Photo: Catherine Ivill / Getty Images)

South Africa’s senior women’s soccer side dropped points from a winning position against Argentina last time out. On Wednesday morning, versus Italy, they are aiming for the three points that might see them through to the round of 16.

It is often said that the third time’s the charm. Sometimes this adage is proven to be true. However, other times it is not the case. When Banyana Banyana take on Italy in their final Women’s World Cup group game, they will be hoping they are on the correct side of this statement.

In their previous two matches in an open Group G, the team has certainly shown glimpses of quality that suggests they can topple the Italians. Worryingly though, they have also been extremely wasteful in front of goal, as well as suffering from costly lapses of concentration in defence.

In their World Cup opener against Sweden, the reigning African champions fought valiantly – before being undone by the Europeans in the dying embers of the game.

Then came the Argentina clash a few days after that demoralising last-minute loss to the Swedes. The second game presented the South Africans with the perfect opportunity to claim maximum points.

They failed to do this. Wasting a number of opportunities to claim their first maximum points in the quadrennial showpiece, in just their second World Cup appearance, following their debut in 2019.

The Argentinians eventually punished South Africa for their profligacy, clawing their way back from 2-0 down and levelling the match at two-all. In fact, Banyana were fortunate that the South Americans did not eventually make it 3-2 and steal all three points.

Banyana Banyana Italy

Rebecka Blomqvist of Sweden scores her team’s fifth goal against Italy at Wellington Regional Stadium on 29 July 2023. (Photo: Catherine Ivill / Getty Images)

“We’re a team that can create. We’ve shown that. It’s about taking our chances, but also about being better organised. Especially in the critical moments. Whether in defence or whatever else, the whole team has got to play their part,” Ellis said during her pre-match press conference.

Do or die

With the clash against Italy effectively serving as a final for coach Desiree Ellis and her charges, there is no room for such mistakes anymore. A defeat or a draw will see Ellis and company pack their bags. As will a comprehensive Argentina victory over the Swedes if Banyana fail to claim their own such win over the Italians.

Banyana Banyana’s task will be made even more difficult by the fact that the Italians are still smarting from being bamboozled 5-0 by Sweden last time out. Not to mention that the Europeans are also fully aware that a loss will send them packing. Though a draw may serve them well. 

They are currently second behind the Swedes, with three points on board. Argentina and Banyana are on one each. 

“We know what to expect from Italy and we will leave no stone unturned. We have played two different types of games in this tournament. The first one was a little bit more defensive, the second was a little bit more open,” Ellis elaborated.

“I will not divulge what we’re going to do [against Italy]. But we have to get the result. We cannot think that it’s just going to fall into our laps. We have to leave everything on the field and make sure that we get what we deserve. To be honest, we deserved more during this tournament and we didn’t get it,” the three-time African women’s coach of the year added.

“Now it’s up to us to go that extra mile to make sure that we leave everything out there and get the result. Because we have come here to go to the second round. Even though it’s our second World Cup, we know the quality that we have.”

Depleted

With midfield enforcer Kholosa Biyana suspended for the Italy clash after picking up two yellow cards, and captain Refiloe Jane’s fitness in question after she suffered an ankle injury against Argentina, that quality may be slightly depleted against Italy.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Desiree Ellis laments Banyana Banyana’s profligacy in front of goal following Argentina draw

Though Ellis is optimistic that Jane will still be fit enough for their do-or-die encounter, the coach said there are enough options to ensure that South Africans still put up their best possible performance. Even without one of the team’s star players and leaders.

Ellis also hinted that her team had failed to execute the pre-game tactics in the previous two matches. More so against Argentina – implying that the pressure of being on this massive stage might be a contributor.

“You can work on all of those things in training… But sometimes it doesn’t come together. Sometimes when it comes together you say we are wonderful. But when it doesn’t come together then we’re not so wonderful anymore. That’s the pressure of playing the game. But it’s also the pressure of the situation,” said the 60-year-old tactician.

“That’s what it’s all about. Going onto the field and knowing what to do, but also handling the pressure. Handling everything that’s happening around you.

“This group has shown through all the adversity, through all the challenges that they’ve faced over the last two years [that they can rise above it all]. This is an opportunity to rise even higher.”

The match kicks off on Wednesday at 9am South African time. That’s also the time current Group G leaders Sweden will tackle Argentina, with the aim of topping the mini-league. DM

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