Heads held high, Banyana exit Olympics
1 August 2012
Banyana Banyana departed the 2012 London Olympic Games on a high as they held Japan, the reigning world champions, to a goalless draw in their final match at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium on Tuesday.
Drawn in the toughest four-team pool of the three, South Africa's national women's football team found the going tough in their first visit to the Olympics; apart from Japan, they faced world number four Sweden and number seven Canada. Yet, by their last game, some lessons had clearly been learnt.
The loose marking and a touch of tactical naivety that had cost them early goals against Sweden and Canada were gone, and even though Japan enjoyed the better of their contest on Tuesday, they could not find a way through the South African defence.
Considering that Banyana entered the Olympics ranked 61st in the world, the losses were not unexpected, but the draw with Japan showed that the competition has been of benefit to the team.
Amateurs vs professionals
Considering, too, that most of the Banyana players were amateurs up against Swedish and Japanese sides with many professionals (Canada's professionals also outnumbered those in the Banyana team), the South Africans gave a good account of themselves.
Even though South Africa managed only one goal in their three games, Portia Modise's wonder strike against Sweden, from a good 45 metres out, could turn out to be the goal of the Olympics, in either the men's or women's competition.
In that opening match, Banyana looked somewhat overawed to be on such a big stage and they quickly found themselves 3-0 down with barely 20 minutes played. Somehow, though, they lifted themselves to match the Swedes and reduced the gap to two goals thanks to Modise's brilliance.
Sweden, though, hit back almost immediately to secure a comfortable 4-1 victory.
In their next outing, Banyana faced Canada. Early on, in the seventh minute, poor defence allowed the Canadians to round South Africa down the right flank and centre the ball for Melissa Tancredi to steer the ball into the net for an early lead.
Once they had gone behind, however, Banyana's game improved. They managed to create some decent opportunities without managing to find the back of the net.
In the second half, Christine Sinclair slotted home a rebound off her own shot to double the Canadians' advantage. They then exposed the centre of South Africa's defence when Sinclair beat the off-sides trap to run clear and score Canada's third goal four minutes from time.
On Tuesday against Japan, the same mistakes that had cost South Africa in their earlier games were not evident, which suggests that despite the losses, the experience gained in London will be invaluable to Banyana Banyana in the future.
Qualifying for the Olympic Games -only 12 teams made it to London 2012 - was a big step forward for Banyana. Now the next step would be to qualify for the World Cup and continue making the encouraging strides they have made under coach Joseph Mkhonza.
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