Banyana slip past DRC to reach third round of Olympic Games qualification
Following their Women’s Africa Cup of Nations and World Cup exploits, Banyana players are keen to tick off more accolades to cement their legacy. Next on that list is the Olympic Games.
It was far from being a classic performance by Banyana Banyana on a rainy and cold Monday afternoon in Soweto. Nevertheless, the South Africans dug deep to beat Democratic Republic of the Congo 2-0 and continue their quest to qualify for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.
A brace by star forward Thembi Kgatlana in the last 20 minutes of the game saw the team clinch a comfortable 3-1 aggregate victory in the two-legged encounter.
The Congolese held South Africa off during the first leg in Kinshasa on Friday, with the match ending 1-1 in sweltering conditions. Banyana’s profligacy in front of goal played a part.
For the return leg at the Orlando Stadium in Soweto, it was a similar story. The central African nation was out of the blocks hastily, hoping to put the home side under pressure by scoring first, just as they did on home soil.
However, neither of the teams could find a way past the other’s goalkeeper in the first half, despite the numerous chances both sides created.
Most of the second half followed a similar sequence. This time it was South Africa in the driving seat, especially when midfield anchor Kholosa Biyana came in for attacker Hildah Magaia 10 minutes into the second stanza. Still, they could not find the back of the net.
That changed in the 71st minute. Biyana sliced through the DRC defence with a through ball. Winger Nicole Michael sprinted on to the pass, before crossing for Kgatlana to stroke the ball into an empty net.
The second goal, scored with two minutes of regulation time left, followed the same pattern: Biyana through-ball. Michael cross. Kgatlana finish.
That was that. Game, set and match. The DRC’s chances of an upset were washed away by the rains of Soweto.
For future generations
The win keeps Banyana’s Olympic dream firmly alive. The team suffered heartbreak when they were eliminated by Botswana at this stage of qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
They’ve avoided the banana peel this time around. Nonetheless, with two rounds of qualifying left, the job is far from done. Next for the team is Botswana or Tanzania.
“We know that it’s a long road. But we’re willing to put the work in and fight until we make it to the Olympics,” Banyana forward Gabriela Salgado told Daily Maverick.
“A lot of players here have not been part of the Olympics. So, it’s each and everyone’s goal to qualify for the Olympics. We know what we have to achieve,” the JVW attacker added.
On what Olympic qualification would mean for a group of players who have won the 2022 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations and reached the round of 16 at the World Cup a year after that, Salgado said: “Yes. We’ve achieved a lot as a team.
“But, at the end of the day, what we do is for the future generations. So, we can’t stop. We have to keep going until things change.
“We have to keep raising the bar. Achievement after achievement is just going to mean change after change. That’s something we all fight for as women in sport.” DM