Banyana in tough World Cup group

Sunday Times - - Sport Soccer - By MARC STRY­DOM

● Banyana Banyana were grouped with Ger­many, China and Spain in the 2019 Fifa Women’s World Cup draw in Paris last night.

The South African na­tional team, who qual­i­fied for France 2019 as last week­end’s fi­nal­ists in the 2018 Africa Women Cup of Na­tions (Aw­con), will have their work cut out pro­gress­ing past the group stage of their first World Cup.

Ger­many, the 2003 and 2007 world cham­pi­ons, are the pow­er­house team in Group B. Spain are play­ing in just their sec­ond tour­na­ment, hav­ing qual­i­fied for Canada 2015. China are play­ing in their sixth World Cup, their best fin­ish as run­ners-up in 1999.

Coach De­siree El­lis’s team do have a yard­stick for their abil­i­ties on a global stage from their ap­pear­ances at the last two Olympics, at Lon­don 2012 and Rio 2016. They ex­ited both in the first round, but showed signs of pro­gres­sion in the four years in be­tween.

In 2012, un­der Joseph Mkhonza, SA lost 4-1 against Swe­den and 3-0 against Canada, but re­cov­ered to a cred­itable 0-0 draw against Ja­pan, that year's 2-1 fi­nal­ist losers against the US.

In 2016 Banyana, un­der Vera Pauw, lost 2-1 against even­tual los­ing fi­nal­ists Swe­den, and 2-0 against China, then drew 0-0 against fourth-placed fin­ish­ers Brazil.

SA reached the World Cup with one of their most con­vinc­ing per­for­mances at an Aw­con, los­ing on penal­ties against 10-time win­ners Nige­ria in last Satur­day's fi­nal. They had beaten Nige­ria 1-0 in the group stage, thrashed Equa­to­rial Guinea 7-1 and drew 1-1 against Zam­bia. They beat Mali 2-0 in the semi­fi­nals.

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