Banyana Banyana qualified for their first ever Fifa Women’s World Cup following a 2-0 victory over Mali in the semi-finals of the Africa Women’s Cup of Nations (Awcon) on Tuesday night.
Coach Desiree Ellis’ troops will now be hoping to cap off the Awcon by completing a double over Nigeria when the two teams meet in the final at Accra Stadium on Saturday.
In the tournament opener, South Africa beat the 10-time African champions by 1-0.
Two hours before Banyana played on Tuesday, the Nigeria Super Falcons needed a 4-2 win in the lottery of a penalty shoot-out after their semi-final against Cameroon ended 0-0 after 120 minutes.
Banyana went into the interval with a better goal advantage against Mali, with their main scoring threat Thembi Kgatlana ensuring she continued her brilliant form as she netted her fifth goal in just four matches.
Banyana started the encounter on a high note. As early as the third minute, captain Janine van Wyk tried to put her side in the lead, but her long-range free kick was wide of goalkeeper Adoudou Konate’s posts.
Soon after, it was Refiloe Jane’s turn to have an attempt at Konate, but she skied her opportunity into the stands.
Although they were missing chances, Banyana’s attack – which was planned around Mamello Mkhabane and Leandra Smeda – was quite a marvel to watch, especially in the first half.
The duo made life smoother for their side as they easily linked defence with attack. Midway through the first stanza, left back Nothando Vilakazi also had a chance to put Banyana ahead, but she ballooned her set-piece over the bar.
In the 31st minute, Banyana’s persistence finally paid off through someone that needs no introduction, Kgatlana.
The Houston Dash striker unleashed a low drive short that beat Konate at her near post following a mis-kick from defender Salimata Dirra.
On the stroke of halftime, the Malians should have levelled matters after an unconvincing clearance from goalkeeper Kaylin Swart, but their rebound left a lot to be desired.
After being on the back foot, Mali came back the hungrier team as Swart yet again nearly cost the Banyana team with a sloppy collection, but that she did enough to quickly recover as big striker Bassira Toure breathed down her neck.
Midway through the second half, Kgatlana should have doubled her team’s tally, only to lose her footing as Konate was already on the ground.
With 10 minutes to the final whistle, right back Lebohang Ramalepe sealed South Africa’s ticket to the 2019 global showpiece that will be held in France with a delightful chip from the edge of the penalty area.
Source: Mihlali Baleka