Banyana primed for showdown
Defending champs raring to go against Madagascar
The Cosafa Women’s Championship bursts into action on Wednesday with a determined Banyana Banyana beginning the defence of their title against Madagascar at the Wolfson Stadium in Kwazakhele (3.30pm).
The leading 12 nations from Southern, Central and East Africa will pit their skills against each other during a three-group tournament that runs until September 22.
SA have selected a strong squad, but will expect tough opposition from the likes of Zambia, Cameroon and Zimbabwe.
The winner could come from those four nations, but it would not be a surprise if a contender emerged from the other eight teams involved.
A win for Banyana Banyana in the opening game is crucial because only the top team in each group and the best second-placed side go through to the semifinals.
Coach Desiree Ellis said her women were fired up and ready to take on Madagascar.
“Preparations have really gone well,” she said.
“I think everybody is excited to start the tournament, which is fantastic.
“The first game still stays the most important game for us because getting the three points and winning the match gives you a bit of confidence.
“It also helps the momentum and will settle whatever nervous pressure there is.
“Playing at home there is always pressure, but we have to manage that well by winning.”
Banyana have spent the past week in Nelson Mandela Bay to acclimatise and become familiar with their surrounds.
However, captain Janine van Wyk, Linda Mothlona and Thembi Kgatlana – who are based in the US and play for Houston – missed out on the camp in Port Elizabeth.
They will only join the team on Wednesday after arriving in SA late on Tuesday.
Ellis said not having the trio at training before the start of the championships did not affect her plans.
“We knew that they would not be with us from the word go,” she said.
“We prepared knowing that they were only going to arrive on the 11th.
“Thembi was the player of the tournament last year and Janine played with the team in March, so they know the setup.
“Linda has been out of the team for a little longer because she [captained] the U20 team trying to qualify for the U20 World Cup.
“But they know things about the team, so it should not be difficult to blend in when they arrive.”
Asked whether the trio would start on Wednesday, the coach said: “I don’t want to divulge [that], but as soon as they get in we will do an assessment to see how we can get them ready.”
There are two more fixtures at the Wolfson Stadium on Wednesday – Botswana play Malawi at 10am and Swaziland face Uganda at 1pm.
Uganda will be hoping to make a lasting impression in the tournament this year.
Speaking to the Cosafa website, skipper Tracy Jones Akiror said the squad had been gelling well and after their performances at the 2018 CECAFA Women’s Championship, in which the side were runners-up.
“We have been together for some time now and I believe we are ready to give it a go,” she said.
“We gained a lot of experience in the CECAFA Cup in Rwanda.
“Previously, we faced big teams like Kenya with fear, but we have grown enough confidence through the numerous games and training camps.”
Akiror said the Cosafa championship would give the team another chance to test themselves with the potential of playing African Women’s Championship qualifiers South Africa, Zambia and Cameroon – and a definite fixture against 2016 Olympic Games participants Zimbabwe in the pool stage.
“We want to test ourselves with the best on the continent because we have great ambitions,” she said.
“We shall go for the ultimate prize, not just participation.”