Heroic Banyana sink Italy to qualify for World Cup last 16

Kgatlana nets decisive winner in five-goal thriller to send SA through

Neville Khoza Journalist
South Africa's Thembi Kgatlana celebrates after the match as South Africa qualify for the knockout stages of the World Cup.
South Africa's Thembi Kgatlana celebrates after the match as South Africa qualify for the knockout stages of the World Cup.
Image: Amanda Perobelli

Banyana Banyana made history as they not only won their first World Cup match but also advanced to the last 16 following a hard-fought 3-2 win over Italy at Wellington Regional Stadium on Wednesday.

They will now face the Netherlands in the last 16 of the competition on Sunday (4am SA time). 

An own goal by Benedetta Orsi and second-half strikes by Hilda Magaia and Thembi Kgatlana sent Desiree Ellis's team to the knockout phase, after they had conceded an early penalty which gave the Italians the initiative.

Banyana were without Kholosa Biyana who was suspended for the fixture, while captain Refiloe Jane made the bench but didn't get a run as a precaution after she limped off during their 2-2 draw with Argentina last Friday. Her place was taken by Robyn Moodaly, while veteran defender Noku Matlou made her first start in this World Cup.

It was a nervy start for Banyana, who conceded from a spot kick as a foul by Karabo Dhlamini on Chiara Beccari in the box, which Arianna Caruso slotted home in the 11th minute.

Banyana came close to finding the equaliser when Moodaly's effort bounced off the upright. Moments later, Banyana levelled after a misplaced back-pass from Orsi rolled into the back of her own net.

The Azzurri almost restored their lead through a snapshot in the area but hit the post before Banyana scrambled a last-ditch clearance.

Both teams went into the interval with the match in the balance. Banyana grew in confidence in the second half and took the game away from the Azzurri and had moments to find a lead, but decision-making in front of goals was the difference.

Banyana pressure finally paid off in the 68th minute when Magaia gave them a lead after she connected well with Kgatlana to make it 2-1.

It was a brilliant team goal as Kgatlana did well to spot Magaia, who beat an offside trap to slot home. The South Africans, who needed a victory to keep their chances of qualifying to the last 16 alive, dominated the second half and came close on a few occasions to increase their lead.

Defensive aerial frailties came to the fore again as Banyana were caught napping when Italy found the equaliser.

As the match was seemingly heading to a draw, Kgatlana became a heroine in added time as she made it 3-2.

The Banyana striker, who captained the team in the absence of Jane, revealed she had to battle with family bereavement while at the tournament.

"Over the last three weeks I have lost three family members, but I chose to stay with the team. I have been in camp, pushing everyday, even when we got a lot of criticism. I could have gone home.

"I came back from a brutal injury. We might have messed the first two games up but we had to dig deep today," Kgatlana told TV interviewers.

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