South Africa side suffering from the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations first COVID-19 break out will have to dig deep to get past a Tunisian team looking to make history. A spot in the World Cup is on offer for the two sides as well as a semi-final match against Zambia.
Banyana Banyana’s depth stretched to limit
South Africa were arguably the most impressive side in the group stage of the tournament, racking up six goals and nine points. Having won their first match against Nigeria, Desiree Ellis was able to rotate her squad fairly heavily against Burundi and Botswana, and there will likely be more rotation to come if reports of multiple players being out with COVID-19 are true.
Banyana are already without star forward Thembia Kgatlana. The newly signed Racing Louisville forward picked up an achilleas tendon injury in the match against Botswana and has been ruled out of the tournament.
In the same game, Katlana’s strike partner Jermaine Seoposenwe limped off in the second half in a move that Ellis said was, “precautionary”.
Since then, reports came out that players including midfield lynchpin Refiloe Jane have Covid and are likely to miss at least the quarter-final match against Tunisia.
South Africa are down to the bare bones and have been forced to use players that coach Ellis admitted were a part of the team for the experience more than anything. But those young players have stepped up when called upon.
Chief among those is Nthabiseng Majiya. The young centre-forward only made her debut off the bench against Burundi, but she proved the difference against Botswana. Coming on for the injured Kgatlana, she scored her first goal for her country, sealing top spot in the group.
Majiya is likely to feature in tonight’s game with the absence of Kgatlana, and she will have to continue here excellent form. Having scored a high of 20 goals in the Women’s Super League in South Africa, she will have another chance to enhance her reputation against Tunisia.
Tunisia on the verge of World Cup
In South Africa’s way is a Tunisian side that have already achieved more than what was expected of them. A thumping 4-1 win over Togo was enough to take the Eagles of Carthage into the quarter-finals, despite going on to lose against both Cameroon and Zambia.
The North Africans, playing in their first WAFCON since 2008, have the tools to trouble a crippled South Africa squad. A spine of experienced heads including captain Chaima Abbassi and Imen Troudi provides a base for the impressive frontline to cause defences problems.
National team record scorer Mariem Houij in particular has impressed. She scored the fastest goal in the tournament, when she lobbed the Togolese keeper after just 17 seconds. Based in Turkey, Houij has struck up a strong attacking partnership with Feyenoord’s Sabrine Ellouzi.
Despite coming up against a weakened South Africa side, the Tunisians will have to be at their very best to grab a win and the all important spot at the World Cup next year. But thanks to the issues that Banyana Banyana have with Covid. The Tunisians come into the match with a large measure of hope.
What they said
South Africa head coach Desiree Ellis:
“We are now at the business end of the tournament as they say. This is our first objective. We’re really looking forward to the game. We know it’s going to be a difficult game like an knock out stage game is.”
“We did not know that this was going to happen [Covid outbreak], but we selected a squad for every eventuality. We’re challenging them again to step up, in the situation that we are in.”
“It’s what you dream of. Just one match and you’ll qualify for the World Cup. So that’s why we’ll take the game more than 100%. It’s a dream for me personally.”