Sundowns Ladies determined to emulate men's team and win a Caf Champions League crown
The antagonism between Ghana and SA will go up a notch when Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies face Hasaacas Ladies in the inaugural Caf Women’s Champions League final in Cairo at 7pm SA time on Friday.
The nations are in a heated dispute over Bafana Bafana’s controversial elimination from the 2022 Fifa World Cup qualifiers at the hands of the Black Stars in the Cape Coast at the weekend.
The South Africans suspected match manipulation and fixing after Bafana crashed out of contention for a place in Qatar under dubious circumstances when Senegalese referee Maguette Ndiaye and his assistants awarded a controversial penalty that ultimately saw Ghana win the match 1-0 to advance to the playoff rounds.
Ndiaye and his assistants made several dubious calls that have prompted the South African Football Association (Safa) to suspect there may have been match-fixing involved, mainly related to the decisive penalty.
World governing body Fifa has acknowledged a complaint from SA, and invited both Safa and the Ghana Football Association to submit their heads of arguments before Sunday, while a determination is being made as to whether the matter warrants an investigation.
The furore has made headline news around the continent and the world and there will be more scrutiny on officiating when Sundowns Ladies face Hasaacas Ladies.
But with the video assistant referee (VAR) in place for the final at 30 June Stadium, Sundowns Ladies and their followers will hope that the technology makes no room for match-deciding errors from officials.
“It’s a big game. We wanted to be here, and we did it. We saw their strengths and their weaknesses, so we have prepared well,” said Sundowns Ladies coach Jerry Tshabalala.
“They are strong, tall and very physical and we can only overcome them if we play our speedy players because we have seen that their defence is a bit slow.”
The Sundowns Ladies have not conceded a goal in their four matches in the tournament after 1-0 wins over Kenya’s Vihiga Queens and Rivers Angels from Nigeria, and a goalless draw against Morocco’s ASFAR to advance to the semifinals as Group B winners, but the downside is that they have scored only two goals.
Banyana Ba Style held their nerve to win a semifinal penalty shoot-out 5-4 over Equatorial Guinea’s Malabo Kings on Monday evening and coach Tshabalala said while his team is fine-tuned to run the distance should the match go to extra time, they are aware that they will need to find the back of the net to swing the match in their favour.
“The two goals scored were enough for us to get out of the group but in the knockout rounds we know that if you don’t score goals you go home,” said Tshabalala, who is nevertheless content with his team's defensive display.
“Strikers win you games, but defenders win you tournaments. But I believe we will score more than two goals tomorrow.
“If we have to play more than 90 minutes, we are ready, but we don’t want to do that,” said Tshabalala.
Hassacas Ladies have been impressive and the team has scored the most goals in the tournament under coach Yussif Basigi.
“Playing the final game means that both teams are fighting for something important — the trophy — and we are coming to win the title and there’s no turning back,” said Basigi. “I have faith in my goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders and attackers. You will see more variations of how the team plays.”
Chuene Morifi was almost unplayable in the semifinals and the Sundowns Ladies will be difficult to stop if she shows the same form.
“We know how they play and we saw the goals they conceded — and that’s something we have been preparing for,” said Chuene.
“The coach has been urging me to join the scoring party, I hope I’ll do so tomorrow.”