Banyana face final exam of 2019 in Japan

Banyana Banyana midfielder Leandra Smeda.
Banyana Banyana midfielder Leandra Smeda.
Image: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images

Banyana Banyana will use their tough year-ending friendly international against world fourth-ranked Japan in Fukuoka on Sunday to measure how far they have grown in a testing 2019, midfielder Leandra Smeda said.

In many ways 2019 was a tough year for the women’s national team.

Banyana had the high of competing in their first World Cup in France in June. But that tournament was very much a steep learning curve for a team used to bossing matches as one of the top three teams in the women’s game in Africa, as they lost all three group matches against Spain (3-1), China (1-0) and Germany (4-0).

Japan lost 2-1 to Netherlands in the last-16 at France 2019, having finished second in their group to England.

“I think the travelling has taken a lot out of the team. It took some time for us to get here. But trained, and we’ve gotten better with each training session,” Smeda said ahead of Sunday’s friendly. Banyana’s first training session was on Friday.

“It’s going to be a tough game for us. Japan are a good team.

“We’ve seen some footage and we know that technically they are very good, and they play a passing game which is something similar to us.

“So we know what to expect and it’s not going to be easy, but we need to just go out there and work hard as a team, and hopefully we’ll get the result that we want.”

Banyana struggled at France 2019, but it was a high standard World Cup, and the national team will have learnt much from the experience. Smeda said the game against Japan can give them an indication of just how much.

“It’s been a busy year for us, and we’ve played a lot of games,” the midfielder said.

“And to end the year off playing such good opponents as Japan is just to see how we’ve grown over the year and at what level we are, and what we can do as a team to improve for the future.”

Japan are the current 2018 Asian women’s champions. Banyana, ranked 59th, were the runners-up to Nigeria at the 2018 Africa Women’s Cup of Nations.

The match in Fukuokoa kicks off at 5.45am SA time on Sunday, and will be televised at 3pm on SABC1.

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