In their debut four years ago, Banyana Banyana were overawed, but they believe they can do better this time around
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Having finished runners-up five times in their history, South Africa won the 2022 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (Wafcon) for the first time in their history to reach just their second Women’s World Cup. At last year’s finals, Banyana Banyana learned to play without the ball after running rings around some fellow African nations and hogging possession. That victory might help the team.
It is clear to Desiree Ellis and her technical team that keeping the ball at the World Cup will not be an easy task. Fans used to watching the team glide around with the ball at their feet sometimes found watching this style adaptation difficult. But South Africa came out on top, defeating hosts Morocco 2-1.
South Africa’s buildup was disrupted by a pay dispute with the national association, which forced its first-team squad to miss the last warm-up match against Botswana. The situation was resolved, however, when billionaire businessman Patrice Motsepe stepped in at the last minute and the team arrived in New Zealand in good time.
The team will rely on the incisive passing of midfielders such as Linda Motlhalo and Sassuolo’s Refiloe Jane. Center-back Bambanani Mbane can also initiate a counterattack from defense.
In that case, Racing Louisville striker Thembi Kgatlana, Mexico-based Jermaine Seoposenwe, Hildah Magaia, and Noxolo Cesane will be crucial. The South Africans will have to be effective if they are to spring a surprise in a group with Sweden, Italy and Argentina.
Players to Watch out
Thembi Kgatlana is one of South Africa’s most influential footballers. “She is a special player,” Ellis said of her star forward. “You know what to expect from her.” He sustained an achilles tendon injury during the group stage, which prevented him from playing much of a role as South Africa won Wafcon. As a result of the injury, she was out of the field for almost a year, but she is back to her best now.
A 20-year-old forward, Wendy Shongwe, will look forward to learning from senior players like Kgatlana and Seoposenwe. She was an 800m athlete in 2017 and won bronze in the national high school championships. Her father promised her that she would return to football in 2021, and the team aspect of football made her want to play again. Shongwe said, “It is a case of one for all and all for one.”
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