‘It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”
Perhaps it is Rocky Balboa that Banyana Banyana should lend their ears to as they set their sights on a recovery period after an abysmal year. Reaching the Fifa Women’s World Cup was an achievement on its own, but winless (before destroying Comoro Islands on Wednesday) and only scoring a single goal in France, the South African women have been a shadow of their 2018 selves.
The Cosafa Women’s Champ-ionship provided a platform for Banyana to build on in 2018. While many would regard the tournament as an exhibition since it does not form part of the Fifa calendar, it is a place from which to build. South Africa managed to win the championship in 2018 and then went on to finish as Africa Women’s Cup of Nations runners up, thereby qualifying for their first World Cup.
Banyana Banyana coach Desiree Ellis admits this tournament assisted the team’s preparations for the Afcon and for the friendlies they played against some of the world’s best nations, such as the United States, and insists confidence in the camp is high.
Captain Janine van Wyk says that although 2019 has been disappointing in terms of results, she feels Banyana have only improved because they have been playing at the highest level. She maintains, however, that the squad must use this tournament to rebuild their confidence and winning mentality.
“We need to play like defending champions and get back to that next level again,” Van Wyk added.
Tagged as favourites to retain their title, the South Africans will be looking to make it a hat trick of Cosafa Cups — their sixth in total — after they claimed victory at both the 2017 and 2018 tournaments.
After obliterating Comoro Islands 17-0, Banyana now turn their attention to Malawi before they take on Madagascar in their final group game on Monday.
Winning the tournament would be a timely confidence booster ahead of an all-or-nothing Olympic qualifier tie against Botswana in late August.
The squad has experienced six changes from the side that travelled to France because the championship does not fall within the Fifa calendar. This means that all internationally based players will miss the tournament, with the exception of striker Ode Fulutudilu, who plays her football in Spain, but is set for a move to a new club.
There are three debutants who will sport the national colours. Midfielder Priscilla Pesa, forward Shange Sthembile and fullback Noxolo Cesane will all, at some point in the competition, have a chance to stake their claim and push older players to the sidelines.
The University of the Western Cape’s Cesane was 13 years old when she first participated in the Sasol National League Championships.
She eventually helped the Cape Town Roses — the team she represented at the time — lift their first National League Championship. Although she was considered young and raw, Cesane has evolved, especially in the mental aspect of her game.
After being called up to the South Africa under-19 squad in 2019, the 20-year-old Cesane now has the opportunity to further her growth as she steps on the field with colleagues who have tussled with the best players in the world.
Returning faces include Hilda Magaia from Tshwane University of Technology‚ who last played for Banyana in January and Robyn Moodaly of JVW FC who hasn’t played for the national team since the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Van Wyk this week spoke of her excitement at welcoming the new faces, but warned that senior players will “keep the youngsters on their toes and let them know what is expected at this level”.