It’s Banyana’s D-day landing

With a week to go until the Women’s World Cup in France, reinvention time is over.

Banyana Banyana have had ample opportunity to trial new approaches and philosophies. From a results perspective it didn’t go so well — they’re yet to win a game in 2019 and lost the majority.

As D-day approaches (the opener is in Normandy, incidentally), the side have increasingly been forced to look inward, to rekindle the unassuming passion that bought them a ticket in the first place.

“Going into this tournament it’s about getting back to who we are,” says forward Jermaine Seoposenwe. “Understanding the identity and character of the team. Staying true to that and not trying to do a lot of new things.”

There’s one warm-up left to recapture that essence and bottle it: Norway on Sunday.

Seoposenwe says it hasn’t quite hit her that she’s in France, partly because all of Europe looks the same to her. The 25-year-old earned her first professional contract earlier this year and arrived in Lithuania to turn out for Gintra Universitetas.

The added time to acclimatise cannot be overstated.

Despite the bevy of high-profile moves over the past year, much of the squad will be unfamiliar with the trappings they’ll encounter. The fact that Banyana arrived last week will go some way to mitigating that reality.

Being overawed has been an issue for the team because they’ve frequently found themselves staring at more esteemed opposition in recent months.

“I think players, staff, technical team, everyone has to look at themselves and decide what they can do better,” Seoposenwe reflects. “You can’t lie to yourself in the fact that we haven’t won. Whether or not the teams that we’ve played are ranked higher than us is not really a factor.

“I think sometimes we look at that and think that those teams should beat us but, at the end of the day it’s 11 versus 11 when you step on to the field and if you execute your task well, you should be able to get a win. We’re talented enough. This team can go against anyone. We all just need to be honest and look back and see what we’ve done wrong. I know people like to look at the positives but at the end of the day when you’re not honest about the mistakes that you’ve made you won’t improve.”

In this context an ostensibly friendly game against Norway begins to look massive. Ranked 12th in the world, the Scandinavians are exactly the type of opposition the South Africans must learn to exact their own game plan upon.

Holding the initiative is a vital intangible of any football match. Every now and then you can scrape a result with a reactionary approach, but it’s unsustainable.

This was obvious in Banyana’s last match, a 3-0 loss to the United States. Although disappointed with the result, coach Desiree Ellis focused on the positives in much of her post-game discussions. She rightly pointed out that her charges didn’t succumb to their Achilles heel of an early goal. They also held the world champions at 1-0 for much of the game and kept themselves in it.

Seoposenwe was not as impressed.

“People say ‘ah you guys played well’. I say ‘no, we just defended well, we didn’t play well’. We were stuck in our half for most of the game. Yes, game management is important but you have to put teams under pressure and not make it easy for them.

“Holistically we need to look at ourselves as a team and really hone in on how to rectify these mistakes; how we can focus for 90 minutes.”

Given her experiences, Seoposenwe will be one of those called on to provide a level head when needed. An impressive member of the 2016 Rio Olympics team, she’s also played in a World Cup before — the 2010 U/17 event. (Goalkeeper Kaylin Swart shares that distinction).

As a key member of the forward line, it is very much a case of being the change you wish to see. Seoposenwe will be the first to admit that much of Banyana’s shortcomings have stemmed from their inability to convert chances. With opportunities likely to be fewer against top-class opponents from next weekend, there’s no better time to dust off the old, trusty road map to goal.

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Luke Feltham
Luke Feltham is a features writer at the Mail & Guardian

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