Sport

LAST CHANCE

Banyana Banyana eye first-leg advantage in crucial Olympic Games qualifier against DR Congo

Banyana Banyana eye first-leg advantage in crucial Olympic Games qualifier against DR Congo
Thembi Kgatlana of Banyana Banyana during the Women's World Cup Australia match between South Africa and Italy at Wellington Regional Stadium on 2 August, 2023 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo: Lars Baron/Getty Images)

Banyana Banyana missed out on Olympic qualification for Tokyo 2020. With the next Games under a year away in France, the team is keen to book their place in Paris. It starts with a clash against DR Congo on Wednesday. 

Banyana Banyana, as South Africa’s senior women’s soccer side is affectionately known, is gearing up for a crucial clash against the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The match is part of the Olympic Games qualification process for African nations. South Africa was one of seven nations who received a bye during the first round of qualification, owing to their displays at the 2022 Women’s Africa Cup Nations.

Of course, Banyana Banyana won that tournament. The first time in its history that it had done so, in spite of reaching a plethora of finals prior.

They then built on that historic achievement by rewriting more history at this year’s Fifa Women’s World Cup.

During the New Zealand and Australia-hosted quadrennial global showpiece Banyana became the first South African senior soccer side, men or women, to qualify for the knockout stage of the World Cup. Before losing 2-0 to the Netherlands in the round of 16

However, this purple patch was preceded by the heartbreak of not qualifying for a third consecutive Games. The South Africans made their debut in 2012 at the multi-sports tournament. They qualified again in 2016.

They were eyeing a hattrick of participation via the 202o Tokyo Olympics. A 3-2 defeat on penalties to neighbours Botswana at this very stage of the qualifiers denied Banyana coach Desiree Ellis and her charges.

Tiisetso Makhubela

Tiisetso Makhubela of South Africa and Lineth Beerensteyn of Netherlands compete for the ball during the Women’s World Cup on 6 August, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

As they enter the second of four rounds of qualification for next year’s showpiece in Paris, France — the disappointment of 2019 still lingers on the team’s mind.

“The game on its own is a big motivation. Especially given the fact that we did not qualify for the last one. It was very sad for us. And most people that were there, are still here now,” said Banyana’s plucky midfield anchor Kholosa Biyana.

This group of Banyana representatives is keen to add another feather to its collective hat of achievements.

“It’s a box we need to tick. We have been to the Afcon. We have been to the World Cup. And we did so well. So, it’s important to continue with that form,” added Biyana.

It won’t be easy playing in the central African nation. Biyana spoke about how much hotter it is since they have arrived in Kinshasa.

There is also the fact that the pitch they will be playing on — the Martyrs Stadium — is an artificial surface. As such, it will be vastly different to the fields they are accustomed to when they play for their clubs in the Hollywoodbets Super League.  

“We will have to attack very quickly. We have players who have been in this situation before,” said Ellis on the conditions that await them.

“In 2021, we played the Aisha Buhari Cup on [on artificial] turf. So, it will be a little bit of adjustment. But not too big. We’ll have to adapt very quickly. The away leg is really important for us to get a positive result,” added Banyana’s 60-year-old coach.

Jill Roord, Netherlands, Banyana Banyana

Jill Roord of Netherlands heads to score her team’s first goal against Banyana Banyana during the Women’s World Cup 2023. (Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

Farewell Van Wyk

The two games are also an opportunity for veteran defender Janine van Wyk to say her goodbyes before she hangs up her boots.

“This has been by far one of the hardest decisions of my life. This decision has always been one I have wanted to make on my terms. And this is my time to say goodbye to football as a player. While I watch the next generation shine,” said the 183-cap veteran defender.

“It has been my greatest honour and privilege to play this beautiful game, in particular playing for my country.”

Considering the aforementioned conditions, Van Wyk is unlikely to start in this first leg of the qualifier. Especially as she has not been a part of the Banyana Banyana setup over the last few months. Including missing out on the World Cup.

However, if South Africa manages to bank a large lead in Kinshasa, the Alberton native may be handed a runout during the reverse fixture on Monday, 31 October.

In spite of her retirement, Van Wyk will not be lost to the game. Amongst other things, she is the founder and owner of Hollywoodbets Super League side JVW.

Banyana vs DR Congo takes place on Wednesday, 25 October. Kick-off is at 4:30pm. DM

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