Top of the group carrot entices Banyana as they face Zambia
Banyana Banyana need just a point from their final Group B clash with Zambia in Accra on Saturday to make sure of their place in the semifinals of the 2018 Africa Women Cup of Nations‚ but in truth will also qualify if they avoid heavy defeat.
A stunning 1-0 win over defending champions Nigeria and a 7-1 hammering of Equatorial Guinea have put the South Africans in a strong position in the pool going into the final round of group games.
Should Banyana slip to defeat to Zambia then a likely win for Nigeria over the hapless Equatorial Guinea would leave the trio on six points.
As the Confederation of African Football (CAF) use the head-to-head results to separate teams‚ it would mean a mini-league is created using only results between Banyana‚ Nigeria and Zambia‚ which would then go down to goal-difference.
Going into the weekend‚ in that scenario Nigeria would be on +3‚ Banyana +1 and Zambia -4‚ meaning the latter would need to not only win‚ but do so by three clear goals to advance.
But there is also the carrot of finishing top of the pool being dangled in front of Banyana‚ which could prove vital in terms of who they meet in the semifinals.
With the top three teams in the competition advancing to the 2019 Fifa Women’s World Cup‚ that is a crucial consideration for coach Desiree Ellis.
It looks likely to be one of Mali or Cameroon‚ and Banyana will certainly want to avoid the latter‚ despite beating them in the final of the 2018 Cosafa Women’s Championship in Port Elizabeth in September.
Amanda Mthandi‚ who scored her first international goal in the thrashing of Equatorial Guinea‚ says they will not be taking Zambia lightly‚ despite the fact that their fellow Southern African team were humbled 4-0 by Nigeria on Wednesday.
“We should not underestimate them. It can be anyone’s day‚ but football can humble you. We will give them a run for their money‚” Mthandi said.
The pacey forward says at times she feels overwhelmed being on the big stage with Banyana‚ but has plenty of support from her teammates and to break her international duck was a key moment in her career.
“I was over the moon to score my first goal‚” Mthandi said. “Linda [Motlhalo] cut inside and I continued my run into the box‚ I asked for the ball and she crossed and I finished.
“It [the Awcon] is the biggest tournament I have been to. I have been to the [AUSC] Region 5 Games and played Varsity Cup‚ but nothing compares to this.
“I speak to the senior players if I am not sure of something and they help me. They tell me to relax and just be the Amanda they know and not to put too much pressure on myself.”
A key consideration for coach Ellis will be whether to rest players ahead of the knockout stages‚ with the semifinal to be played on Tuesday‚ meaning their opponents will have one extra day’s rest.
But that could be a risky manoeuvre against a Zambian team that know they must attack with guns blazing if they are to seal a semifinal spot.