'Tough' Banyana unlucky to lose Cup of Nations final on penalties
Banyana are heroines and this final failure is no slight on them
The dreaded penalty shootout lottery didn't smile on Banyana Banyana as Nigeria pipped them 4-3 to collect their 11th Africa Women's Cup of Nations last night.
The match was goalless after extra time at Accra Sports Stadium but Linda Mothlalo and Lebohang Ramalepe missed penalties.
However, Banyana are heroines and this final failure is no slight on them.
The fact the game went to penalties indicated how far SA have come against Nigeria.
In the past Banyana were often heavily beaten. Now Banyana not only have the tenacity but also the tactical smarts to go toe to toe with them.
The best part was that they went at each other for the two hours and at no stage did the commitment of the combatants waver.
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While they have secured the key goal of qualifying for next year's World Cup in France, they had scores to settle.
SA's group-stage win against the Super Falcons meant they had to qualify for the World Cup the hard way by having to beat Cameroon on penalties in the semifinals.
Also, Nigeria aren't accustomed to losing to SA at any level and the group stage loss stung them severely.
However, these sides were the best teams in the tournament and deserved to hold court in the showpiece game.
While the heavy surface did not allow for flowing football, Banyana again displayed superb defensive composure to soak up the Super Falcons' pressure.
Nigeria's star forward Asisat Oshoala tested Banyana keeper Kaylin Swart but she was equal to the task in the third minute, and Busisiswe Ndimeni had a very good free kick saved by Nigeria's goalkeeper, Tochukwu Oluehi.
SA had more time on the ball but Nigeria were asking the pertinent attacking questions. Swart had to pull off a superb 24th- minute save from a long range Josephine Chukwunonye grass-cutter from just outside the box.
Fifteen minutes later captain Janine van Wyk had to make an important intervention to prevent Oshoala from a one-on-one opportunity against Swart.
Thembi Kgatlana had a quiet first half but she was well watched by Nigerian centreback Onome Ebi.
In the 41st minute a turn of pace from Kgatlana had Ebi grasping at straws.
Ebi though was able to recover and prevent Kgatlana from homing in on goal. Another impressive aspect of Banyana's display was how they adapted to life without midfield enforcer Refiloe Jane.
Ndimeni at times was caught for pace but never lost her composure.
The tactical match continued well into the second half.
Nigeria came close through Francisca Ordega after the restart but the chance that went wide was indicative of the profligate nature of the game.
Nigeria should have scored when Swart was forced to concede a penalty after she fouled Ordega in the 74th minute.
Banyana indulged in gamesmanship before and after the penalty that was unsuccessful as Oshoala terribly shanked the resultant spot-kick.
Banyana had to defend for their lives in the 83rd minute when a goalmouth scramble from a free kick was cleared with difficulty.
Mpumi Nyandeni, on as a substitute, had a tame 85th-minute shot saved by Oluehi.
Extra time came with early excitement, Swart having to pull off a superb 95th-minute save. Kgatlana spurned a golden opportunity to give Banyana the lead three minutes later. She shot tamely at Oluehi as the Nigerian defence again failed to deal with her pace. Motlhalo, who also had a solid game, had a snap-shot that was well saved by Oluehi moments later.
Accra's heat and humidity finally caught up with the teams as the pace in the second half slowed significantly.
Nyandeni had another chance from a free kick in the 118th minute but Oluehi tipped the ball over. The Super Falcons stopper would have the final say in the shootout.
Nigeria (0) 0
South Africa (0) 0
Nigeria won 4-3 on penalties