Cape Times

CAN BANYANA REALISE THEIR OLYMPIC DREAM?

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BANYANA Banyana have been the flag-bearers for South African soccer for a number of years now.

They won the 2022 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations, and became the first SA senior team to reach the knock-out stages of a Fifa World Cup last year.

They made it out of their group in Australia and New Zealand, and went down in gallant fashion to the Netherland­s in the round of 16.

But now coach Desiree Ellis and her team have an opportunit­y to right a wrong from their recent past: qualify for the Olympic Games.

Having competed at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, Banyana missed out on the Tokyo edition in 2021.

After drawing 0-0 away in the first leg of the 2019 second-round qualifier against Botswana, Banyana just needed a 1-0 victory to advance to the final qualifiers. Instead, they lost 3-2 in a penalty shoot-out at Orlando Stadium following another goalless draw at the end of extra time.

But five years later, Banyana are an infinitely better team, which they have proved with a number of excellent results in recent seasons.

This time around, they have made it to the final round of the 2024 Paris Olympics qualifiers, having seen off DR Congo and Tanzania.

But to make it to the Paris Olympics later this year, South Africa need to get past fierce rivals Nigeria.

The first leg of the final qualifier takes place in Abuja today, with the second leg at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Tuesday night.

Banyana have a strong squad in Nigeria at the moment, with regular captain Refiloe Jane also back in action, alongside other stars such as Thembi Kgatlana, Hildah Magaia and Jermaine Seoposenwe.

They arrived in Abuja on Sunday already, having travelled from Johannesbu­rg via Kigali in Rwanda, and have mentioned that the extra time to acclimatis­e to the hot conditions will aid their performanc­e today.

Banyana have the edge over the Nigerians in recent encounters, having beaten the Super Falcons in four of their last five games, including a 2-1 triumph at the 2022 Women’s Afcon.

South Africa will hope for at least a draw in Nigeria, and finish off the tie with a victory in Pretoria. Let’s hope they do the business and make it to the Paris Olympics.

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