Although Banyana Banyana of South Africa lost the final of the 2018 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (AWCON) to the Super Falcons of Nigeria, they remain my team of the tournament and here’s my reason.
Of all the teams at the just concluded AWCON, Banyana Banyana of South Africa looked really well coached, down to earth, level headed and focused, winning the heart of many at the tournament. They knew what the goal was and didn’t stop until they achieved just that. They played exciting and beautiful attacking football but also knew when to be conservative.
A good example of how well drilled the team looked was in the opening match against the Super Falcons of Nigeria. They barely had any chance in that game but converted the half chance that came their way in the 85th minute to run away with all three points.
One thing South Africa did was ensure they stayed in the game especially as coach Desiree Ellis emphasised the importance of starting the tournament well to put themselves in a good place as the competition progressed; and that was exactly what the opening day win did as they topped the group which had the defending champions in it.
After that game which was the opening match in Group B, Zambia took on Equatorial Guinea and guess who stayed back till the end to watch that game? Yes, you guessed right!
Head coach of the Banyana of South Africa, Desiree Ellis and her coaching crew stayed back not only to watch that match, the video analyst also recorded it so as to get down to work as quickly as possible especially considering that they had to play Equatorial Guinea next.
Throughout the tournament, South Africa proved to be very clinical in attack. When they weren’t allowed to control proceedings, the brilliance of Kgatlana Thembi was enough to take them over the line like we saw against Nigeria. Also when given room to play like Equatorial Guinea did, they ensure the team gets punished severely.
Against Zambia, it was a South African derby but Kgatlana once again scored a brilliant goal to give her side the lead before Zambia drew level and that was it. Zambia needed to win while all South Africa needed was one point to secure a semi-final ticket. South Africa again, did the needful against a very youthful, athletic and fearless Zambian side who had nothing to lose.
The semi-final showed us another side of the very determined and disciplined South African team. Kgatlana struck with another goal but this time, resulting from a defensive error with the Malians slow to clear their lines and the Houston Dash forward pounced to punish them. Again in the second half, a long range effort was misjudged by the Malian goalkeeper as South Africa won 2-0 playing simple effective football.
Like I said at the beginning of this piece, although South Africa lost to Nigeria in the final, they remain my team of the tournament. The difference in the final was experience and the fact that the current crop of Super Falcons know how to win the AWCON trophy and that was key coming into the final on Saturday.
Little wonder half of the Banyana Banyana outfield players made it into CAF XI and South Africa’s Kgatlana won the Total Woman of the Tournament Award having scored the most goals and won the most Woman of the Match Awards.
That said, having qualified for the World Cup for the first time in their history and winning so many hearts with their performance at the just concluded AWCON, I not only expect South Africa to win the CAF women’s team of the year, I also expect coach Desiree Ellis and Kgatlana Thembi to emerge winners of the female national team coach and women’s player of the year awards respectively.
I must also add that on and off the field, they were a class act despite the fierce competition. They had prepared long and hard for this AWCON tournament, came with a goal and achieved it by doing their talking on the field. They are a perfect example of the reward of hardwork, proper planning and preparation.
P.S: This is not to say that the Super Falcons didn’t do well, they did! But like I said, experience and the winning mentality saw the girls over the line as the coach had little or no time to impact or imprint his philosophy on the team before the commencement of the tournament.