Banyana raise their game in Cyprus
7 March 2012
South Africa's women's football team, Banyana Banyana, stepped up their Olympic preparations at the Cyprus Women's Cup, finishing third in their group after a win, a draw and a loss against far higher-ranked opponents.
Banyana Banyana completed group play with a 2-0 victory over Northern Ireland on Sunday, which means they will play off against Scotland for ninth place overall.
In their earlier matches, Banyana fell 2-0 to South Korea, number 16 in the Fifa World Rankings, in difficult, windy conditions, and drew goalless against world number 24 New Zealand.
At 66th in the rankings, Banyana was the lowest ranked team in Group C – Northern Ireland is in 54th place – so, in respect of the rankings, they punched above their weight.
After their loss to the South Koreans, Banyana showed a big improvement in defence against New Zealand, with Amanda Sister once again shining. She combined well with tough-tackling Janine van Wyk and fullbacks Nothando Vilakazi and Zama Cele, who had taken over from Simphiwe Masina after South Africa's defeat in their first outing.
Coach Joseph Mkhzona was satisfied after the draw, telling the South African Football Association (Safa): "We focused on the defensive play at training after the match against South Korea and today the team as a whole, but most notably the defence, put in a much improved performance.
"This is a great exercise and we should be thankful for getting the opportunity to compete ahead of the Olympics. This should surely work in our favour moving forward."
Two second half goals from Nomathemba Ntsibande secured Banyana Banyana a 2-0 win over Northern Ireland on Sunday in their final group match, which left them in third place in the group with four points from three outings.
The Koreans topped the pool with seven points, from two wins and a 1-1 draw against New Zealand in their last game. The Kiwis finished second on five points, and Northern Ireland failed to score any points.
Ntsibande's first goal came from the penalty spot after a cross from Noko Matlou hit the hand of a defender in the box. “Noko Matlou normally takes the penalty kicks, but I saw that she was on the ground after her strong run and I thought that she was injured, so I offered to take the kick,” said Ntsibande afterwards.
Reduced to 10 players
The Irish were reduced to 10 players in the 75th minute when Catherine O'Hagan was sent from the field for a studs-up challenge – resulting in her second yellow card of the game.
Two minutes later, Ntsibande made a superb run on the left side, beating three defenders before striking the ball with her left foot. The shot rebounded off the far goal post before bouncing along the goal-line and ended in the back of the net.
"It was a real team effort out there against Northern Ireland, and we could have been in an even healthier position on the log because we played really well in our previous game against New Zealand as well," Ntsibande said to Safa.
Speaking after the match, Banyana Banyana head coach Joseph Mkhonza said: "We are delighted to get the win and I believe that our team is improving with every game they play.
"Credit and gratitude must go to Safa and our sponsors Sasol for allowing Banyana Banyana to get some tough practice matches as we prepare for London. We will continue with our plans to ready the squad for the Olympics in July."
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