The Banyana Banyana national women’s football side have brushed aside a determined Namibia to book their place in Sunday’s semi-final of the 2017 COSAFA Women’s Championship in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.
Friday saw the South Africans beating Namibia 3-1, with a brace from Thembi Kgatlana and another goal from Chantelle Esau.
With both sides coming into the match off the back of wins in their opening encounters, it was always going to be a battle for the three points to claim top spot in Group C.
But it was Banyana Banyana who started the brighter of the two, as they dictated terms from the onset.
So it was no surprise when they took the lead in the sixth minute through Kgatlana – scoring her second goal in two games.
It was a well-worked move by Banyana Banyana – defender Lebohang Ramalepe passing the ball to captain Refiloe Jane on the right wing, and she sent in a cross that found Kgatlana, who made no mistake in front of goal.
The South Africans increased their lead in the 17th minute when Kholosa Biyana sent in a defence-splitting pass to Esau and she made it 2-0 – it was also her second goal of the tournament in two games.
But Banyana Banyana were stunned in the 38th minute when Millicent Hikuam spotted keeper Roxanne Barker off her line to reduce the deficit.
Sensing danger, South Africa’s coach Desiree Ellis brought on experienced defender Noko Matlou to tighten things a bit at the back in place of Regina Mogolola, while midfielder Nompumelelo Nyandeni replaced Koketso Tlailane.
With just one minute remaining on the clock, Kgatlana struck again after they caught Namibia on a counter-attack, and this time Esau turned provider for Kgatlana to tap into an open net with the keeper in no-man’s land.
‘We knew we had to get off the blocks quickly,’ said Banyana Banyana interim head coach Desiree Ellis. ‘We were in complete control, especially in the first 20 minutes.
‘We managed to get two beautiful goals to ease off the pressure, but then we conceded a very soft goal, and there were some harsh words in the dressing room at the break, then we played good football again.
‘When we got the third, the game was sealed and I’m proud of our performance in the early stages, it was a great improvement from the Lesotho clash, but at the same time we know we can do more,’ said Ellis.
‘Playing back to back matches was always going to be difficult, and that is why we made four changes today so as to manage the players and keep them fresh. We knew that fatigue was going to set in, especially in the final stages of the match and I have to applaud my players for their staying power, which showed pure mental strength.
South Africa next face Botswana at Barbourfields Stadium on Sunday. Kick-off is at 16:30pm
‘There will definitely be changes in that match – starting with the goalkeeper, because also we have already qualified for the semis, so we might as well do it.
‘We want to give some players a rest and at the same time give others a chance before we get to the business end of the tournament. There are a couple of uncapped players and we want to see what they can give us, start introducing them gradually into international football.
‘We also can’t make too many, so we don’t lose our momentum,’ added Ellis.
This was also a special match for defender Nothando Vilakazi, who was making her 100th appearance for Banyana Banyana, joining the elite league of Portia Modise, Janine van Wyk, Matlou, Nyandeni and Amanda Dlamini.
At half-time she was presented with a jersey with the number 100 to symbolise the matches she has played. SAFA NEC member, Truman Prince, who is also the head of the South African delegation in the tournament, did the presentation.
The team will take a breather on Saturday to rest the players ahead of the final group stages match on Sunday.
Banyana Banyana starting XI v Namibia:
Roxanne Barker (GK), Lebohang Ramalepe, Nothando Vilakazi, Regina Mogolola (Noko Matlou), Kholosa Biyana, Koketso Tlailane (Nompumelelo Nyandeni), Bambanani Mbane, Refiloe Jane (C), Leandra Smeda, Thembi Kgatlana, Chantelle Esau (Rhoda Mulaudzi)
Andile Dlamini, (GK), Yolula Tsawe (GK), Noko Matlou, Zanele Nhlapo, Nwabisa Kolisi, Nkoikoi Mabina, Rachel Sebati, Nompumelelo Nyandeni, Rhoda Mulaudzi
Interim head coach: Desiree Ellis