Banyana on the brink of sealing World Cup qualification
Banyana Banyana have plenty of nerves and are feeling the pressure for Tuesday’s 2018 Africa Women Cup of Nations (Awcon) semifinal‚ but perhaps just a little less than their opponents Mali‚ South Africa goalkeeper Kaylin Swart has said.
There is everything at stake for both teams at Cape Coast Sports Stadium in Cape Coast (kickoff 6.30pm in Ghana‚ 8.30pm SA time).
A win will guarantee not just a place in Saturday’s final but also a top-three finish and qualification for the 2019 Fifa World Cup in France.
Swart was referring to the fact that Banyana‚ despite having never won the Awcon‚ have far greater experience in the knockout stages than Mali.
South Africa have been four-time losing finalists since the tournament’s inception in 1991‚ most recently in 2008 and 2014. They have played in five semifinals‚ winning four.
Mali have exited in the group stage in all seven of their Awcon appearances.
Swart was asked on Monday if Banyana are feeling the nerves and pressure at the prospect of finally qualifying for a Women’s World Cup‚ having fallen at the last hurdle for the sport’s greatest stage on many previous occasions.
“Nerves – yes. Pressure? A lot‚” Swart said.
“We know why we are here. You know‚ we’ve been in this position multiple times‚ and we’ve always come up short.
“But I think this time around the pressure is good‚ because we’ve set so many goals for ourselves‚ and to achieve that goal [on Tuesday] would just be the greatest achievement.
“And not just for ourselves but for the technical staff‚ the federation [Safa]‚ the sponsors [Sasol] – they’ve backed us for so many years and winning would just be giving so much back to them.
“So ja‚ the pressure is on‚ but I think it’s a positive pressure because we know what we’re doing. And having been here before I think we have the upper hand.
“We know Mali haven’t qualified for the World Cup either. And they also have a goal to go to the World Cup.
“So we all have one goal. Who plays for it in the semifinal is what matters.
“But I do think we’ve got an upper hand just because we’ve been in this position.
“But ja‚ it’s going to be a tough one. It’s not going to be easy.
“Whoever comes to play is going to win. And I think I back my team to do that.”
Banyana fairly cruised through the round-robin stage‚ apart from a final-match hiccup‚ drawing 1-1 against Zambia in a result that was still enough to clinch Group B.
Before that they beat 10-time Awcon winners Nigeria 1-0 in their opener‚ then twice victors Equatorial Guinea 7-1.
Mali lost 2-1 against Group A winners Cameroon‚ then beat Ghana 2-1 and Algeria 3-2 for the runners-up spot.