By Mark Etheridge
at the National Olympic Stadium
A 75th minute goal by Nilla Fischer saw the South African women’s football team go down 1-0 to Sweden here on Wednesday.
The Group E clash was the first sporting action of the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Four years ago Banyana Banyana also met Sweden in their first match and went down 1-4 on that occasion.
After hitting the cross bar in the fifth minute, Sweden dominated for much of the play on a cool Brazilian afternoon and SA keeper Roxy Barker was in frequent action.
Tigerish midfielder Steph Malherbe stood out for the South Africans but chances were few and far between with the strikers often too isolated and ineffectual against the tall Swedish backline.
An indication of just what the South Africans were up against were that the staring Swedish 11 had six players taller than 1.75m. SA had just one and that was keeper Barker.
In the 27th minute there was an injury concern for midfielder Mamello Makhabane who was stretchered off but was back in the thick of things in no time at all.
Less than 10 minutes later and the stretcher crew were in action again, this time it being more serious a concern as Shiwe Nogwane was replaced by Linda Motlhalo.
After four minutes referee’s optional time Banyana went into the break having held their more fancied opponents to a 0-0 scoreline.
The second half served up still more of an attacking smorgasbord by the Scandinavians with Barker again called on to keep SA in the game. Noko Matlou was sent clattering to the ground in the 64th minute with the pro-South African local crowd yelling ‘yellow card, yellow card’.
In the 70th minute there were two quick corners in succession for SA taken by Makhabane from first the right hand then the left side.
A small period of pressure ended with Lebohang Ramalepe making a horribly scuffed mess of an attempted shot from the edge of the box.
Then came the turning point as Barker twice managed to clear her line before the ball bobbled loose to big Swedish defender Fischer who bundled it over with her upper thigh.
South African’s most threatening player up front, Jermaine Seoposenwe thought she was through and clear on goal in the 80th minute but was then flagged for offside.
While disappointed to have lost, skipper Janine van Wyk put on a brave face. ‘We played our hearts out there today. Yes, we lost but the goal was a sloppy one and our defence stood firm and they didn’t score from a set move or a header.
‘We played much better as a team today compared to our friendly against New Zealand last week.
‘Now we’ll analyse this game and coach Vera [Pauw] will prepare us for China on Saturday. I’m very happy and proud of the girls today.’
Next up for the South Africans is a match against China at the same venue on Saturday at 7pm local time (midnight SA time).