Banyana Banyana qualify for Fifa Women's World Cup
Thembi Kgatlana scored her fifth goal of the tournament as Banyana Banyana sealed their place in the final of the 2018 African Women’s Championship with a 2-0 semifinal success over Mali in Cape Coast on Tuesday and in doing so qualified for next year’s Fifa Women’s World Cup in France.
It is a moment of history to savour for the women’s national team, who reach for the World Cup for the first time after years of heartbreak, achieving the pre-tournament goal of coach Desiree Ellis.
Right-back Lebogang Ramalepe also scored for Banyana, who now meet Nigeria in Saturday’s final for a chance at another piece of history, a first ever gold medal in their continental championship.
There were wild scenes of celebration at the final whistle as South Africa deservedly booked their World Cup place, outplaying Mali in every department and showing themselves again to be the most technically proficient team in the competition.
Captain Janine van Wyk broke down in tears at the final whistle, memories of past failures for the moment banished.
Mali barely managed a shot on goal as South Africa’s greater organisation and tactics kept them at bay.
Van Wyk saw her 35-yard free-kick drift wide of the post early on, while Refiloe Jane skewed a shot horribly wide when she would perhaps have been better off trying to pick out a teammate.
Mali thought they should have had a penalty when the ball struck Van Wyk in the box, but the referee waved play-on and it looked the correct decision.
South Africa had perhaps a better shout midway through the first half when Jermaine Seoposenwe was felled in the Mali box, but again referee Jonesia Kabakama from Tanzania saw nothing wrong.
Banyana took the lead just past the half-hour mark and while it was scrappy to say the least, it could be the most important goal of Kgatlana’s career.
Jane’s cross was not cleared by the Mali defence and when the ball fell to Kgatlana, she scuffed her shot, but so much so that it squirmed out of the reach of goalkeeper Adoudou Konate.
Jane had a chance to add to the lead shortly afterwards as the Mali defence suddenly looked panicked, but she shot wide from the edge of the box.
Banyana keeper Kaylin Swart made a hash of trying to clear a free-kick late in the first half but she got away with in the end and Banyana led 1-0 at the break.
Swart was fortunate again early in the second period when she dropped a simple catch from a long ball, but Mali forward Bassira Toure was unable to profit from the loose ball.
Kgatlana almost profited from a poor piece of keeping by Konate as the ball was spilled, but her shot on the turn was blocked as Banyana continued to keep up the pressure.
Substitute Busisiwe Ndimeni had two chances in quick succession, a poor first touch denying her a shooting chance in the box and then a header from a corner that drifted wide.
The game was made save with 10 minutes remaining when Ramalepe’s cross-come-shot drifted into the net over a distraught Konate.
Mali will have another chance to book a World Cup spot when they clash with Cameroon in Friday’s third-place play-off.