‘Nigeria will come guns blazing’: Banyana look to recent record for confidence

03 April 2024 - 15:09
By Sazi Hadebe
Banyana Banyana goalkeeper Kaylin Swart trains at the Turf Arena Sports Centre on Monday ahead of their Olympic qualifying tie against Nigeria.
Image: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix Banyana Banyana goalkeeper Kaylin Swart trains at the Turf Arena Sports Centre on Monday ahead of their Olympic qualifying tie against Nigeria.

Banyana Banyana are hoping the confidence gained from their recent strong results against Nigeria will help earn them a place in the 2024 Olympics.

The South Africans arrived in inland Abuja on Sunday to prepare for Friday's first leg of the decisive fourth-round qualifier to decide one of two African teams at the Paris women's Olympic tournament that runs from July 25 to August 10.

The first leg against the Super Falcons is at MKO Abiola Stadium in Abeokuta (6pm SA time), a city 100km inland from coastal Lagos and 650km from Abuja. The second leg is at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Tuesday.

The winners go into a tough Group C with Japan, Brazil and world champions Spain.

The African champions left six days ahead of the first leg because coach Desiree Ellis wanted the team to acclimatise as much as possible as the match is expected to be played in severe heat. Banyana goalkeeper Kaylin Swart said the players were getting used to the weather.

“It feels good to be settled in Nigeria. Obviously, the weather is pretty warm but I think our mental toughness is really taking over. We're having a few days to adapt and that's a good thing,” Swart said. “Everyone is excited. A few of us were talking about how different it is when we travel compared to home camps. But I think the atmosphere is good, the environment, the vibes are always there. I think we're ready to go.”

Banyana used to barely be able to win a game against powerhouse Nigeria, who have a formidable record and pedigree having won 11 out of 14 Women's Africa Cup of Nations tournaments and competed in all nine editions of the Women's World Cup. The Super Falcons have reached three of the seven women's Olympic tournaments.

South Africa, though, have won four of the past five matches they've played against the Africa's top-ranked team. Swart believes that record and the experience gained in those victories will help Banyana on Friday, though only to an extent.

“We know Nigeria so well. We've played each other so many times over the years and I think we had the upper hand in previous encounters and we've grown so much as a team, as nation.

“We know women's football is growing in South Africa and I think individually we're superior to what we used to be. I think it's going to be a real battle.

“Previous results obviously do matter but I don't think it's going to mean a lot now. Both teams have changed so much. We've matured and we've become more confident. I think that element of surprise is going to be there.

“I just know Nigeria are going to come guns blazing but we have what it takes to grind out the result and I just hope it's in our favour.”

Ellis said she will be happy to come back with a positive result so Banyana are not under a great deal of pressure at home.

South Africa, who reached the second round of the 2023 World Cup in Australasia, last qualified for the Olympics in 2016 and Nigeria last appeared in 2008.