Wednesday, 17 August
Bayana Banyana were crowned deserved winners of the Women’s African Cup on Saturday evening in Rabat, Morocco when they defeated the hosts 2-1 in the final of the competition.
Here are five talking points from South Africa’s 2-1 win against Morocco in Rabat on Saturday and the tournament in general:
Striking when it matters
South Africa was profligate in front of goal in this tournament. The one game where they probably played their best from a tactical and finishing perspective was against Nigeria.
They took their chances, while not only defending resolutely, but controlled the game to ensure their biggest threat was taken care of.
From that point on, Banyana went through stages of nerves mixed with excellence where they dominated teams, but failed to make a statement.
They may have had nine shots at goal on Saturday, with four on target, but it was the clinical nature of the chances converted by Hildah Magaia that was the most impressive aspect of Banyana’s win.
Both chances came from dispossessed opportunities, with Jermaine Seoposenwe (more on her later) played a key role in the creation of those changes.
There was a gnashing of teeth when Thembi Kgatlana was ruled out with injury, but this Banyana side is indeed a brilliant sum of its parts that functions excellently from a collective perspective.
It’s also worth remembering that key passes for the goals came from defenders Karabo Dhlamini, Bambanani Mbane and Noko Matlou (more on them later).
Judicious Jermaine rises to the occasion
There was an air of nervousness from Jermaine Seoponsenwe at the Banyana squad announcement.
She hadn’t played much for the women’s national team and with questions over Mamelodi Sundowns’s Ladies forward Andisiwe Mgcoyi’s exclusion not being adequately addressed, the pressure was always going to be on her.
When it mattered, she, like cream, rose to the top. She scored the winner in the unnecessarily close 1-0 quarterfinal win against Tunisia, but was a nuisance in the 1-0 semi-final win against Zambia.
Her assist for Magaia’s 63rd-minute opener and the neat pass that allowed Dhlamini to put in the cross that set Magaia free for the winner was of the highest class.
She is indeed a South African heroine.
What about imbokodo? It’s that rock solid defence!
With the tournament taking place in the high Northern Hemisphere summer, squad rotation was a necessity to ensure players remained fresh.
Ellis used every defender on her roster, including squad captain Janine van Wyk, who started the final group game against Botswana.
However, her first choice back four of Ramalepe, Mbane, Matlou and Dhlamini did the business when it was required.
The sore part was that when Banyana conceded, it was from silly mistakes in the three matches. However, in the crucial quarterfinal and semi-final matches, clean sheets were kept.
The significant part was the quality of passing from the defenders in terms of building from the back, and that came through in the final.
Three goals conceded in six games is a mighty defence effort and after all, tournaments are won through stingy defence.
Goalkeeper Andile Dlamini, another one with continental experience, was simply peerless.
Where did the nine minutes come from?
Continental Cup matches, especially in Morocco, are never complete without a form of controversy.
Rwandan referee Salima Mukansanga, who will be officiating at the men’s World Cup last year and was excellent in the final, was seen to be gesturing for four minutes of added.
Granted, the game was a frisky and physical one where Banyana, especially in midfield and in the second half, gave the Atlas Lionessess a taste of the medicine generally dished out by their male counterparts at club and country level.
Somehow, nine minutes were added, but Banyana, who recovered their resolve after an unnecessary mistake from Ramalepe allowed the hosts a foothold into the game, kept their composure.
However, the ugly side of African football, especially in the North of the continent where a win-at-all-costs attitude often trumps the need to market the pros of the game on the continent, reared its ugly head.
Banyana though, were always a better side and when they needed to step it up, it showed. Morocco, being sworn diplomatic enemies with South Africa over the Western Sahara matter, simply couldn’t stomach losing to SA.
Noxolo Cesane is the future
Like the men’s team, Banyana is blessed with skilled midfielders. Refiloe Jane was unmatched in the tournament, despite Morocco’s first-half excellence that kept her pinned down in her half.
Once Jane got into the game, so did Noxolo Cesane, who may prove to be her natural successor in years to come.
Her finishing can and should improve, but her no-nonsense and combative nature discomfited the hosts, who simply couldn’t comprehend why a player so small didn’t stand back for them.
One thing Ellis has done well is putting in place succession plans to ensure players come and go without impacting the team.
Cesane was eased in well and showed she belonged at the highest level, something that bodes well for future title assaults.
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