SOWETAN | Inject new blood into Banyana

11 April 2024 - 09:34
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 After losing 1-0 in the first leg in Nigeria, Banyana knew they needed to score against the Super Falcons to stand any chance of qualifying for the Olympics in the return leg, but only played to a dull draw.
Image: Sydney Seshibedi After losing 1-0 in the first leg in Nigeria, Banyana knew they needed to score against the Super Falcons to stand any chance of qualifying for the Olympics in the return leg, but only played to a dull draw.

Banyana Banyana’s failure to qualify for the 2024 Olympics is obviously heartbreaking given how close they came to securing the ticket to Paris.

Our national team fell short to their nemesis, Nigeria, who triumphed with just a single goal over two legs to break SA hearts. But in assessing what may have gone wrong for Desiree Ellis’s team, we need to be honest and not merely attribute their failure to bad luck.

Could the team be regressing after scaling some heights over the past few years? Ellis has relied on almost the same squad who historically led SA to their Women’s World Cup in 2019, won a first Women’s Africa Cup of Nations two years later and then qualified for last year’s World Cup in Australasia, where they made the knockouts for the first time.

An upward trajectory now seems to have taken a dip with the failure to get past Nigeria’s Super Falcons, historically the best women’s team on the continent. We accept that the draw could have been kinder to Banyana, as it is very strange to find two top-rated teams in SA and Nigeria facing each other for one of two qualifying spots.

But perhaps the time has come for Ellis to also look to refresh the team with an eye on the 2027 World Cup. Going forward, she needs to be clearer about bringing in new blood to the side.

The Hollywoodbets women’s league was started a couple of years ago; some PSL teams have established women’s teams, so plenty of new talent is coming through the ranks. Banyana have also, with their recent success, helped elevate women’s football although it has a long way to go.

The truth is, whatever challenges they may have had along the way, Banyana’s failure to make Paris 2024 is regression. Contrast that with our neighbours Zambia, who overcame a tough Moroccan side to take Africa’s second spot at the Olympics. Zambia, mind you, had lost the first leg at home, but turned it around in Morocco to first force extra-time and then win 3-2 on aggregate.

It was a commendable effort for the Copper Queens who made it two successive Olympic qualifications, adding to a first World Cup last year, which had been preceded by a first medal at the Wafcon in 2022. Now that’s some progress. We sadly can’t say the same about our beloved Banyana.