Fal­cons spoil it for Banyana

CityPress - - Sport - CITY PRESS COR­RE­SPON­DENT [email protected]­press.co.za What a sad end­ing to a beau­ti­ful story.

Banyana Banyana were on the cusp of mak­ing his­tory, but in the end it was Nige­ria who reaf­firmed their sta­tus as the undis­puted cham­pi­ons of Africa last night.

With their 4-3 penalty win over South Africa in the fi­nal of the Women’s Afcon at Ac­cra Sta­dium in Ghana, the Su­per Fal­cons claimed their ninth con­ti­nen­tal ti­tle, while Banyana re­turned with an­other sil­ver medal in what was their fifth ap­pear­ance in the tour­na­ment fi­nal.

South Africa beat their long-time neme­sis in the open­ing game of the group stages a fort­night ago, but luck de­serted them yes­ter­day.

A miss by Linda Motl­halo dur­ing the penalty shoot-out ended Banyana’s fairy tale af­ter the two teams were locked in a goal­less draw in reg­u­la­tion time and ex­tra time.

While the con­ti­nen­tal prize con­tin­ues to elude them, the price­less con­so­la­tion for Banyana re­mains their ticket to their maiden Women’s World Cup, which they se­cured by reach­ing yes­ter­day’s fi­nal.

For a while it seemed like the foot­ball gods were on coach De­siree El­lis’ side, be­fore they even­tu­ally be­came an­other statis­tic of the Fal­cons’ de­struc­tion trail in the con­ti­nen­tal tour­na­ment.

South Africa sur­vived a big let-off when they al­most gave it all away at the cru­cial phase in the sec­ond half of reg­u­la­tion time.

This af­ter goal­keeper Kylie Swart fouled Fran­cisca Ordega in­side the box 15 min­utes be­fore full time.

How­ever, Asisat Oshoala sent her spot kick wide, much to the re­lief of the Banyana bench. Apart from this miss, there were never re­ally too many other ob­vi­ous scor­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties in the 90 min­utes, as the two sets of de­fences cleared their lines each time they were un­der at­tack.

Swart would later deny China-based Oshoala shortly in the open­ing half of ex­tra-time.

Yes­ter­day’s match was a bit dif­fer­ent to the first meet­ing be­tween the two sides, who were in the same group when the tour­na­ment started a fort­night ago.

It was clear that the Fal­cons had done their home­work on the Banyana side that de­feated them 1-0 in the open­ing fix­ture and ended up as run­ners-up in the lead-up to the semi­fi­nals.

The game was an evenly-bal­anced af­fair, with both sides tak­ing a fair share of turns to test each other.

But Nige­ria mostly re­lied on their physique to bull­doze their way for­ward to link up with their wingers Ordega and Oshoala, who de­liv­ered deadly balls into the goal area.

To their credit, South Africa did not panic and in­stead fo­cused on their strength of mov­ing the ball around even though they couldn’t get beyond their op­po­nents’ de­fence, with Jer­maine Seo­posenwe op­er­at­ing as the lone striker.

Even the at­tempt to use the pace of Thembi Kgat­lana on the right did not re­ally trou­ble Nige­ria, with right-back Josephine Chuk­wunonye al­ways opt­ing to ar­rive first and play the ball to safety to avoid suc­cumb­ing to the tricky winger.

The US-based Kgat­lana – the golden boot win­ner, with five goals in the tour­na­ment – showed her in­di­vid­ual bril­liance in ex­tra time when she broke through a clus­ter of de­fend­ers. Her shot, how­ever, did not trou­ble keeper Tochukwu Oluehi, who later made a bril­liant save from Motl­halo’s piledriver.

Things could have turned pear-shaped for South Africa in reg­u­la­tion time, when they were dealt a blow mid­way into the sec­ond half with the in­jury of mid­fielder Le­an­dra Smeda. She was re­placed by vet­eran Noko Mat­lou, who made her first ap­pear­ance in the com­pe­ti­tion.

El­lis had an un­changed start­ing team head­ing to the fi­nal, but she was forced to bring in Bu­sisiwe Ndi­meni in the place of Re­filoe Jane, who was re­called by her Aus­tralian club, Can­berra United, shortly af­ter she helped Banyana beat Mali 2-0 in the semi­fi­nals.

In the end it was a great team ef­fort that car­ried Banyana through­out the tour­na­ment and the golden ticket to France is well de­served, in ad­di­tion to the CAF Awards nom­i­na­tions South Africa got this week.

Kgat­lana and cap­tain Ja­nine van Wyk were nom­i­nated for Player of the Year, El­lis for Coach of the Year, while Banyana are up for the Team of the Year gong again.

With all 24 teams go­ing to the World Cup con­firmed, where South Africa, Nige­ria and Cameroon will rep­re­sent Africa, Banyana will know their op­po­nents at the draw in France on Sat­ur­day.

PHOTO: MUZI NTOMBELA / BACKPAGEPIX

CLOSE CON­TEST Banyana Banyana at­tacker Jer­maine Seo­posenwe evades Nige­rian mid­fielder Hal­i­matu Ibrahim Ayinde dur­ing the Women’s Afcon fi­nal at Ac­cra Sta­dium in Ghana last night

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