Banyana Banyana begin the defence of their Cosafa Women’s Championship crown with a meeting against Madagascar at the Wolfson Stadium in Port Elizabeth on Wednesday for what should be a gentle introduction to the tournament.
Coach Desiree Ellis’ side are hoping to retain the title they won in Zimbabwe last year‚ but also have an eye on the African Women’s Championship that will be played in Ghana from mid-November.
That continental competition acts as a qualifier for the FIFA Women’s World Cup in France next year‚ so the stakes are high over the coming months as Banyana seek a first ever place on the global stage.
The side have been drawn in Group A at the Cosafa tournament and after their clash with the Malagasy‚ face Botswana and Malawi.
Madagascar lost all three games in last year’s competition‚ conceding 17 goals in the process‚ while Malawi picked up four points from their group games‚ but failed to advance to the semifinals.
Botswana were in Banyana’s first round group and held Ellis’ side to a surprise 1-1 draw‚ which suggests they may be the biggest challengers to the hosts for a place in the next round.
“We have been busy analysing the opposition to make sure we get our game-plan right‚” Ellis told TimesLIVE.
“Having said that‚ if you concentrate too much on the opposition‚ you can forget about your own team and what your strengths are.
“Madagascar are an enterprising team‚ Botswana know all about us having played them so often in the last few years.
"And Malawi have great players that have good overseas experience‚ so we need to plan and prepare for each team.
“It is important to start the tournament well on Wednesday.”
Ellis has released Melinda Kgadiete from the squad over fitness concerns‚ replacing her with Tiisetso Makhubela of Mamelodi Sundowns‚ though the latter has a groin injury and will undergo a scan on Tuesday.
The Houston Dash trio of Janine van Wyk‚ Thembi Kgatlana and Linda Motlhalo will not be considered for the Madagascar clash‚ or possibly the second game against Botswana on Friday depending on how they are coping with jet-lag having returned from a seven-hour time difference in the USA on Tuesday.
Only the top team in each pool‚ as well as the best-placed runner-up‚ advances to the semifinals.
The field this year also includes Central African nation Cameroon‚ who are the highest ranked side in the competition at number three in Africa‚ as well as Zambia‚ who have also qualified for the African Women’s Championship in Ghana.