Banyana take steps towards World Cup in Cyprus

Banyana Banyana players share a light moment during training at their base at Ndoum Stadium in Ghana on November 19 2018.
Banyana Banyana players share a light moment during training at their base at Ndoum Stadium in Ghana on November 19 2018.
Image: Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix

As Banyana Banyana begin their latest phase of preparation for the 2019 Fifa Women’s World Cup‚ star forward Thembi Kgatlana has confirmed a move to Chinese league side Beijing BG Phoenix FC.

Kgatlana was searching for a new home after she and Linda Motlhalo were released by Houston Dash‚ their absence in preparation for the World Cup meaning they would miss a sizeable chunk of the National Women’s Soccer League season.

Phoenix FC play in the Chinese Women;s Super League and finished sixth out of eight teams last season.

Women’s football is hugely popular in China and the country is currently ranked 15th in the world by Fifa‚ and reached the quarterfinals of the World Cup in 2015.

Kgatlana has seen her stock rise hugely in the last 12 months and claimed the African Women’s Footballer of the Year prize in 2018 after helping Banyana to second at the African Women’s Nations Cup.

That has seen the side qualify for a first ever World Cup in France later this year and they will head to the Cyprus Cup next week to get more excellent international matches in preparation.

Banyana open their campaign against Finland on Wednesday‚ before a clash with North Korea on March 1. Their final group game will be against Czech Republic on March 4.

“Things have gone well‚ I have been impressed by the enthusiasm and the attitude. The level of fitness is good as well‚” Banyana coach Desiree Ellis said as her squad assembled for training.

“We obviously want results‚ but improvement is also key‚ improvement in our performance and fitness levels.

“The focus [in Cyprus] is on improving in all aspects‚ ball retention and movement. We are going to a tournament where there is little time in-between [matches]‚ so we will have to look after that.”

Banyana have already played two games this year‚ going down 2-1 to the Netherlands and holding Sweden to a 0-0 draw. This is the chance to grow their international reputation further.

“Any tournament you go to‚ you want to win it. There were a few players we did not get to see in the Netherlands and Sweden games and it is only fair to give them another chance‚” Ellis said.

“The door is never closed. We want to take the best players with us to the World Cup.”

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