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Old foes Nigeria the final hurdle for Banyana Banyana’s Olympic hopes

Old foes Nigeria the final hurdle for Banyana Banyana’s Olympic hopes
Banyana Banyana celebrate with fans after beating Tanzania 4-0 on aggregate at Mbombela Stadium in Mbombela on the 27 February 2024 to advance to the next round of the 2024 Olympics qualifiers. They will next meet Nigeria in April. (Picture: Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix)

Banyana Banyana beat Tanzania 4-0 on aggregate to book a date with Nigeria in the final round of Olympic qualification. The two-legged tie between the old rivals is set for April 2024.

After easing 4-0 past Tanzania over two legs, Banyana Banyana are now just two games from qualifying for the 2024 Olympic Games, which will take place in Paris from July.

The South Africans came into Tuesday night’s second leg encounter with a comfortable 3-0 advantage from the first match, which was played in Dar es Salaam on Friday, 23 February.

Banyana Banyana’s deadly and experienced trio of attackers Jermaine Seoposenwe, Thembi Kgatlana and Hildah Magaia were integral in establishing the comfortable lead for Desiree Ellis’s team ahead of the second leg in Mbombela, Mpumalanga.

In front of the healthy crowd that had piled into Mbombela Stadium, the South Africans finished off the job as Kgatlana scored once more, via a clever free-kick routine that was set up by brilliant box-to-box midfielder Kholosa Biyana – leading South Africa to the fourth and final round of Olympic qualification.

“The coach gave a lot of young players an opportunity. She’s trying to build a team and get more depth in the team. So, that kind of messed with our flow a little bit,” Seoposenwe, who was celebrating a 100th Banyana Banyana cap in Mpumalanga, said after the match.

“But at the end of the day you need to give players an opportunity to see what it’s like to play at this level … Players need to get that experience. Overall, we controlled the game. It was a little scrappy here and there. But we always had control,” Seoposenwe said.

The Super Falcons of Nigeria will be a completely different prospect to what Banyana Banyana encountered versus Tanzania. But Ellis and her charges can breathe easy knowing that the Nigerians are somewhat of an open book for them. The predatory Super Falcons, however, are not always easy to read. 

A dominant force

Jermaine Seoposenwe of Banyana Banyana

Banyana Banyana striker Jermaine Seoposenwe (No 12) celebrates her 100th cap for her country at Mbombela Stadium in Mbombela, where the team beat Tanzania to advance to the next round of the Olympic qualifiers. (Picture: Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix)

For more than two decades the Nigerians have been a superpower in women’s soccer in Africa, dominating the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (Wafcon) by winning it a mammoth 11 times. Equatorial Guinea is the second-most successful nation in the tournament, having won it just twice.

In 2022 Banyana Banyana won Wafcon for the first time in their history, after landing a few silver and bronze medals in previous editions. In the process, they became only the third country in history to conquer African women’s football.

That Nigeria was one of the teams they vanquished on the way to this maiden success made the victory even tastier. Now the teams are set to renew their rivalry when they clash on 1 and 9 April. The winner of the contest will be one just of two African countries that will travel to Paris in July.

“There’s still a lot to work on. We’re going to face Nigeria. Which is a super tough opponent. We’ve seen them so many times over the last couple of years, and had great results. But it won’t be easy. We’re both gunning for that spot to go to the Olympics. We weren’t there for the past one. So that’s our goal,” Seoposenwe told journalists. 

“It’s a privilege and an honour to walk out for the national team. We’ve grown in leaps and bounds. It’s been 14 years of me being a part of the national team. I can just thank God for sparing for this long in the national team,” the Mexico-based attacker said, reflecting on her 100 caps for Banyana.

“[I just want to continue] to have that mentality to still be better and still fight for my spot in the team … To be a part of this winning team is amazing. We’ve grown so much. Coming from Wafcon and going to the World Cup, you can see the growth in this team,” the 30-year-old said.

South Africa have been without two vital cogs – Mamelodi Sundowns defender Bambanani Mbane and Italy-based skipper Refiloe Jane – since their memorable Fifa World Cup display where they reached the round of 16. Seoposenwe hopes the duo will finally return against the Super Falcons.  

“Next game it’s going to be tough. Hopefully we have Bambanani and Fifi back. We need them. And hopefully we can get a win,” the striker said.  

Coach Ellis added: “We know the Nigeria game is not going to be easy. But we’ve shown that we can play with the best. Having our best players back will also help a lot. Because when it comes to those tough matches, you need players with experience.” DM

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