By Gary Lemke
A determined Banyana Banyana will be out to stop the bleeding when they take on Sweden in their opening Group E match at the Olympic stadium in Rio on Wednesday.
Last week’s 4-1 defeat to New Zealand was only a friendly, but it served as a jolt for the South Africans who also lost their previous three matches in the build-up, although the scorelines against elite opposition were encouraging, going down 2-0 and 1-0 to the Netherlands and 1-0 to the United States.
‘It was not a good performance at all, a very chaotic display but it was a good wake-up call for us to push away some of the distractions we encountered leading to the match,’ coach Vera Pauw said of the setback against the Kiwis.
Talismanic captain Janine van Wyk, who will be making her 132nd appearance for her country, knows what challenge lies ahead against the higher-ranked Swedes.
‘When people ask me today who was the toughest opponent we have ever faced, it would be Sweden who beat us 4-1 at the London Olympics in 2012 and we were not well prepared.
‘This time around we are looking forward to the match and going for it as best as we can, with the team high on confidence in ourselves as a group. I think we are really capable of getting a good result if we just stick together and work on the aspects we have been working on for the past eight months. This game will give us a lot of confidence going forward if we get a good result – so we are really looking forward to as it means a lot to us, probably one of the most important matches of the tournament to get a good start for ourselves,’ she said.
The squad has been in Rio for 10 days already and although the game against New Zealand and the regular practice sessions have helped clear the cobwebs, nothing beats the real thing and it doesn’t get any more real than playing a quality side in the Olympic stadium.
China (on Sunday) and Brazil (next Tuesday) also lurk in Group E, so a good start is imperative to this team’s chances going forward in the competition.
Four years ago, making their Olympic debut, Banyana Banyana finished 10th overall, with Sweden a couple of rungs above them in seventh. But, Van Wyk, one of four centurions in the squad, is adamant they have come a long way since losing 4-1 to the same opposition in London.
‘We are now much more fitter, stronger and more experienced in our play,’ said the 29-year-old defender. ‘There are ten players in our squad who were at the London Olympics, so the experience is there and we know what to expect around us. We played some international friendly matches against the world’s best teams and we know what to expect from these teams, especially Sweden. We know what they are capable of but we can also capitalise on their weaknesses as well, we will use our strength to benefit our game and see where that takes us.’
Banana Banyana have five foreign-based players in the squad and one of them, Jermaine Seoposenwe, popped up with the goal in the friendly against New Zealand. She has scored 10 times from 41 appearances and is likely to be the one asking the most questions of the Swedish goalkeeper.
Banana Banyana (from, caps in brackets): Roxy Barker (28), Lebohang Ramalepe (27), Nothando Vilakazi (86), Noko Matlou (124), Janine van Wyk (capt, 131), Mammello Makhabane (71), Stephanie Malherbe (7), Robyn Moodaly (14), Amanda Dlamini (100), Linda Motlhalo (8), Shiwe Nogwanya (28), Jermaine Seoposenwe (41), Bambanani Mbane (2), Sanah Mollo (69), Refilio Jane (62), Andile Dlamini (19), Leandra Smeda (60), Mpumi Nyandeni (125), Nomathemba Ntsibande (36), Thembi Kgatlana (36), Chantelle Esau (22), Kaylin Swart (uncapped).
Weather forecast: Partly cloudy with small chance of showers. Temperature: 23deg C.
Venue: Olympic stadium. Built in 2007, will also be used for athletics.
Betting: 1-5 Sweden, 11-2 Draw, 14-1 South Africa.
Kick-off: 1pm (6pm SA time).
Image courtesy Wessel Oosthuizen/SASPA