Banyana Banyana will have to dig deep against Tunisia in a crucial Women’s Africa Cup of Nations quarter-final match in Morocco Thursday evening.
The outcome will determine who qualifies for next year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
The South Africans have been dealt a blow with key players out due to injury and illness.
Two players are in isolation because of COVID-19, while star striker Thembi Kgatlana has returned to South Africa after sustaining a serious leg injury against Botswana.
Coach Desiree Ellis will have one of her toughest tasks as head coach. She will be missing three of her senior players at a major event ahead of a vital match, which has never happened before during her career.
There is also an expectation that more players could test positive ahead of Thursday’s match.
The team also suffered an earlier blow when Kgatlana picked up a leg injury and she has been ruled out for at least six months.
Banyana Banyana Captain, Janine van Wyk says they will have to give their best, irrespective of their circumstances. “Yes it’s a big setback for us losing the likes of Thembi and so on but we have to continue to look forward and prepare the best we can with the players that we have available and give our best.”
Banyana Banyana player, Nomvula Kgoale says they know they have to step up. “We know what is happening. We have to stick together, we have a great bunch of players who can play different roles so that’s where we have to come in and step up because we can see where this is going. We know what the dream is and we have to keep it going.”
Despite the setbacks, the team has depth. In her selection for the tournament, Ellis went for the experience. The majority of the players have featured at big tournaments for the national teams at both junior and senior levels.
She has a good balance, capable of getting the job done.
Kgoale says “The importance of this match is the fact that it’s the knock-out stages. It does not matter what you have done before so everything counts every ball every blade of grass, This is the kind of mentality that we will be having. We are just going to give it all on the field, someone said if you have to leave your leg on the field, please do that we will fix it after that.”
They face a Tunisian side that made it to the quarter-finals as one of the two third-best finishers in the group stages with just one win and two defeats.
They are also not regarded as a powerhouse on the continent. But with the women’s game growing in leaps and bounds in North Africa, they cannot be underestimated.
Meanwhile, Morocco became the first North African country to qualify for the World Cup during the current campaign and the region will be hoping that they have more than one representative at next year’s showpiece.
Van Wyk says “Collectively they work great together which is going to be a huge task against us because we also do the same for us. We know they will come out really strong, I think any team that we would face in this round we know it will be a task to overcome them but we believe in ourselves and have the capabilities to reach the semi-finals.”
Africa will for the first time have four spots at the global spectacle which increased the chances of countries to qualify.
The ultimate prize for Banyana Banyana is to win the tournament. But with the latest disruption, their priority now is to get past Tunisia to book their tickets to Australia and New Zealand and return to the big stage after their maiden appearance in France in 2019.