Gallant Banyana lose Afcon final on penalties to defending champions Nigeria
The dreaded penalty shootout lottery didn't smile on Banyana Banyana as Nigeria pipped them 4-3 to collect their 11th Africa Women's Cup of Nations.
The sides were goalless after extra time at the Accra Sports Stadium but Linda Mothlalo and Lebohang Ramalepe missed their penalties.
However, Banyana are heroines and this final failure is no slight on them.
The fact the game went to penalties was indicative of how far South Africa have come against Nigeria.
In the past, Banyana were often heavily beaten.
Banyana not only have the tenacity, but the tactical smarts to go toe to toe with them.
The best part was that they went hammer and tongs at each other for the two hours
At no stage did the commitment of the combatants waver.
While they have secured the key goal of qualifying for next year's World Cup in France, they had scores to settle.
South Africa's group stage win against the Super Falcons meant they had to qualify for the World Cup the hard way by having to beat Cameroon on penalties in the semi-finals.
Also, Nigeria aren't accustomed to losing to South Africa at any level and the group stage loss stung them severely.
However, these sides were head and shoulders the best teams in the tournament and deserved to hold court in the showpiece game.
While the heavy surface did not allow for freeflowing football, Banyana again displayed superb defensive composure to soak up the Super Falcons' pressure.
Nigeria's star forward Asisat Oshoala tested Banyana keeper Kaylin Swart but she was equal to the task in the third minute.
While Busisiswe Ndimeni had a very good freekick saved by Nigeria's goalkeeper Oluehi Tochukwu, South Africa had more time on the ball but Nigeria were asking all the pertinent attacking questions.
Swart had to pull off a superb 24th minute from a long range Josephine Chukwunonye grass-cutter from just outside the box.
A while later, captain Janine van Wyk had to make an important intervention to prevent Oshoala from having a one-on-one opportunity against Swart.
Thembi Kgatlana had a quiet first half by her lofty tournament standards but she was well watched by Nigerian centreback Onome Ebi.
In the 41st minute, a turn of pace from Kgatlana after she sighted a long ball had Ebi grasping at straws.
Ebi though was able to recover and prevent Kgatlana from honing in on goal. Another impressive aspect of Banyana's display was how they quickly adapted to life without their midfield enforcer Refiloe Jane.
Ndimeni at times was caught for pace but never lost her composure.
The tactical chess match continued well into the second half as the combatants asked questions of each other.
Nigeria came close through Francisca Ordega after the restart but the chance that went wide was indicative of the profligate nature of the game.
Nigeria could have and should have scored when Swart was forced to concede a penalty after she fouled
Ordega in the 74th minute.
Banyana indulged in some gameswomanship before and after the penalty that proved to be successful as Oshoala terribly shanked the resultant spot-kick.
Banyana had to defend for their lives in the 83rd when a goal mouth scramble from freekick was cleared with great difficulty.
Mpumi Nyandeni, who came on as substitute, had a tame 85th minute shot that was easily saved by Tochwuku.
Extra time came with its own bout of early excitement with Swart having to pull off a superb 95th minute save while Kgatlana spurned a golden opportunity to give Banyana the lead three minutes later.
However, she shot tamely at Tochwuku as the Nigerian defence again failed to deal with her turn of pace. Motlhalo, who also had a solid game, had a snap-shot that was well saved by Tochwuku moments later.
Accra's heat and humidity finally caught up with the teams as the pace in the second half slowed down significantly.
Nyandeni had another chance from a freekick in the 118th minute but Tochwuku tipped the ball over the bar. The Super Falcons stopper would have the final say in the shootout.
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