Banyana aim for opening bang at their first Fifa Women's World Cup
Despite recent losses, the team hope to shine at World Cup
Describing Banyana Banyana's build-up to their first ever Fifa Women's World Cup as shambolic could be an understatement, yet those in the dynamics of the team vehemently oppose such an assertion.
Banyana coach Desiree Ellis, forward Thembi Kgatlana and one of the new faces in the team, Sibulele Holweni, all told the Sunday Times - on the eve of their departure to France on Thursday - that "there's no need to worry" despite an eight-match winless run in their preparation.
Banyana open their account in the World Cup at Stade Oceane in Le Harve, France, against Spain on June 8 and Banyana's top star, Kgatlana, insisted that people will see the real Banyana when they make their debut against the Spanish side making their second appearance at the global showpiece.
Banyana's tough Group B is completed by the highly-rated two-time world champions Germany, who are ranked second in the world, and China, who are ranked 16th and have participated in six of the previous seven women's World Cups.
Star striker Kgatlana is unfazed by the pedigree of the opponents.
"That [the results] comes with preparation," said Kgatlana of Banyana's not-so-encouraging build-up to the World Cup. "The good thing is that we are not in the tournament yet. When we lose, it means there are still things that we're still doing wrong."
The Beijing Phoenix (China) striker says their struggle to win matches this year could be a blessing in disguise as their opponents may view them as weak.
"I'd rather have the team lose now so that we go back and fix whatever we have to than having a team winning all nine friendlies going to the World Cup and then we lose because we think we're on top of the world," Kgatlana said.
The result of the first match is always key to any team wanting to make an impact in a tournament.
But Kgatlana, who top scored with five goals in the Africa Women Cup of Nations in Ghana (Awcon) last year, where Banyana finished second behind Nigeria, said it's all about who's better prepared.
"It's not about who we are targeting," she insisted, "it's about who wants to make it to the second round. I can say we are targeting China and they beat us, then what am I going to say? So I think it's about who wants it the most. No one in the group will say I don't want to go through.
"It all boils down to who has prepared the most and besides the negative results, I can safely say our preparations were great. We've played against some of the toughest opponents in Netherlands, Sweden and USA."
For her part, Ellis did not hide the fact that she is eyeing the opening match against Spain as a possible springboard to their maiden World Cup campaign.
"Well ... that first match is key," said Ellis, who has blooded in Holweni, a former Under-17 national team captain, to sharpen the attack that now also includes Spanish-based striker Ode Fulutudilu and Rhoda Mulauzdi, who all missed the Awcon in Ghana.
"You can't look any further than the first match. If you get a positive result it sets a great tone for the rest of the tournament.
"Spain haven't won a game in their last World Cup, so their aim is also to win a game. We just want to make sure we get our plan in order and then it will be up to the players to execute it."
Fear of the task ahead is the furthest thing on the mind of Holweni, the 18-year-old attacking midfielder who hails from KwaZakhele in East London in the Eastern Cape. She committed herself to doing everything she's capable of to make the country proud if she gets a run.
"There's no use looking back at the recent results," said Holweni, who confessed that she never expected to be in Ellis's team.
"What everyone can expect from us is 100% commitment on the field. What I know is that we have players like Thembi who are capable of surprising everyone at the World Cup," said the Grade 12 pupil from Tuks Sport High School at the High Performance Centre in Pretoria.
THE WORLD CUP SQUAD
Mapaseka Mpuru, Andile Dlamini, Kaylin Swart
Lebogang Ramalepe, Nothando Vilakazi, Noko Matlou, Janine van Wyk (captain), Bambanani Mbane, Tiisetso Makhubela, Bongeka Gamede
Refiloe Jane, Mamello Makhabane, Karabo Dhlamini, Busisiwe Ndimeni, Leandra Smeda, Kholosa Biyana, Sibulele Holweni, Linda Motlhalo
Thembi Kgatlana, Ode Fulutudilu, Amanda Mthandi, Jermaine Seoposenwe, Rhoda Mulaudzi
BUILD UP TO THE WORLD CUP
Friendly - 19/01
Friendly - 22/01
Cyprus Cup - 27/02
Cyprus Cup - 01/03
North Korea 4
Cyprus Cup - 04/03
Czech Republic 2
Cyprus Cup - 06/03
Friendly - 07/04
Friendly - 12/05