South Africa finished their group stage on a high after beating neighbours Botswana to take top spot and nine points in the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations. The victory in a very tame match was overshadowed by the injuries to Jermaine Seoposenwe and Thembi Kgatlana who would be devastating losses for Banyana Banyana as they seek their first continental title.
Story of the match
Having already qualified for the knockouts, Banyana Banyana were able to rotate heavily, bringing in eight changes from their win against Burundi.
The most notable change seeing captain Janine van Wyk making her first start at centre back. And the veteran defender was called into action immediately in the first minute, making a perfectly timed sliding challenge in her own box.
With plenty of changes, South Africa were struggling to move the ball with the same fluency that they have done so far in the tournament. The brightest spark, as expected was Kgatlana.
The forward was at her menacing best, picking up the ball all across the pitch and taking on defenders. She created a chance for Mapula Kgoale before striking one narrowly wide herself.
But chances were few and far between. Van Wyk saw a header that was on target blocked before Melinda Kgadiete saw her header go wide.
It was a similar story for Botswana. They struggled to get a hold of the ball against their more prestigious opponents and their only outlet was the ever impressive Refilwe Tholakele. She came closest when she latched onto a long ball before seeing her strike go into the side netting.
Coach Desiree Ellis would have demanded more from her side at half time and they came out with more energy. Kgadiete seeing her early strike acrobatically saved by Maitumelo Bosija.
But the fire was short lived. Having already seen forward Seoposenwe go off injured in the first half, South Africa had an even more painful blow when Thembi Kgatlana slipped off the ball and had to be stretchered off. It was cruel blow for the 2018 finalists, losing their two best attacking minutes in a game that was little more than a dead rubber.
The South Africans continued to dominate the ball without their two forwards and looked increasingly frustrated when they could not create clear-cut chances.
But Banyana’s pressure eventually told. Nthabiseng Majiya struck home after Kgoale’s initial shot was saved.
South Africa for the first time have gotten maximum points from the group and despite a rather tepid performance from the heavily rotated side, will be happy with the result. The real concern will be around the fitness of Kgatlana and Seoposenwe. Botswana likewise, having an injury concern of their own when talisman Refilwe Tholakele was stretchered off late as well.
Banyana Banyana have already shown that they lack ruthlessness in front of goal and if both their most dangerous weapons miss out on the rest of the tournament they will be severely hindered in their attempts to win their first Cup of Nations. They next face Tunisia in a game which they are heavy favourites for, and will be hoping that they can get their forwards fit in time for the knockouts.
For Botswana, they will be pleased with a very resilient performance against one of he tournament’s best sides. They now face hosts Morocco in the quarter-finals and will need to show that resiliance again while improving going forward if they want to progress to a historic semi-final.
Stand out player
On her return to the national side, captain Janine van Wyk put in a faultless performance. She showed her quality in the first minute when she made that early challenge on Tholakele and was a calm presence both on and off the pitch. She nearly scored an excellent header that was cleared off the line and showed no signs of rustiness on the ball either.
South Africa’s most capped player may no longer have a guaranteed starting spot in the team, but she still commands a vital position in the squad. Whether or not she on the pitch, she will continue to be crucial to South Africa’s chances of winning the title.
South Africa – Dlamini (gk), Gamede, Van Wyk (c), Mbane, Dhlamini, Holweni, Biyana, Motlhalo, Kgoale, Kgatlana, Seoposenwe
Substitutions – Kgadiete, Schmidt, Majiya,
Botswana – Bosija (gk, c), Mogotsi, Gaofetoge, Montsho, Mochawe, Thanda, Sechane, Radiakanyo, Johannes, Dithebe, Tholakele
Substitutions – Ramafifi, Tlamma, Ontalmetse, Galekhutle