7th November, 2012
The die is cast and the stage is set, as the Banyana Banyana of South Africa file out today to confront the Super Falcons of Nigeria in the semi-final of the ongoing African Women Championship, AWC in Equatorial Guinea.
The Banyana Banyana plan to unleash their arsenals at the Nkoantoma Stadium, Bata to see if they can break the jinx of the defending champions, who have won the AWC for a record six times with the last held right at their backyard in South Africa .
Coincidentally, today’s meeting would be the third time that South Africa will be playing against the Nigerians. Both teams have clashed twice this year in international friendly matches, which ended 1-1 in Rustenburg and goalless in Lagos.
The Coach Kadiri Ikhana-led side Falcons have dominated female football in Africa since inception, but lost just one of the previous seven trophies to Equatorial Guinea in 2008. For South Africa, today’s tie will be a tough task, as the Nigerians are desperate to win their seventh title.
The Nigerian ladies are arguably the most talented side with veterans in their nest such; Perpetua Nkwocha of Sunnana SK of Sweden, who has set a 15 goals target for herself but has only scored one, Stella Mbachu of Rivers Angels, and skipper/goalkeeper Precious Dede of Bayelsa Queens providing the needed backup between the goalpost hoping to deny the South Africans a chance to score.
Also, Esther Sunday of Sunshine Queens, Ebere Orji of Rivers Angels and Emueje Ogbiagbveha of BIK Kazakhstan are expected to combine their youthfulness and pace to see if they could deny the South Africans an opportunity to break the jinx that has engulfed them for a longtime.
Today’s clash promises to be exciting and explosive if the words coming from both camps are anything to go by. The cracker maybe hours away both teams have taken the battle a step nearer by firing shots at eachother on the social media.
From the coaches to the players the war of words have started with the South African Head Coach, Joseph Mkhonza describing the cracker as a ‘no fear’ approach’. To Mkhonza, the Falcons are a better side but also expressed strong confidence in the ability of his team to take the battle to the Nigerians from the blast of the whistle.
According to him “SAFA and our team sponsor, Sasol need to be thanked for the continued support given to the national team, which has turned our players into heroines in the eyes of sports fans across our country, we are adopting the ‘no fear’ approach because we know the Nigerian ladies are no pushovers having won the AWC for a record six times but that does not mean we are going to let them have their way”.
While reacting to Mkhonza’s claim that they are capable of breaking the jinx, Coach Ikhana described Mkhonza’s words as wishful thinking, stressing that his team would come out victorious at the end of the day.
According to him “Now that we are in the semi-final there is no going back, our opponents cannot stop us because our mission is to successfully defend the AWC trophy”.
Even the players are also not left out of the war of words as veteran Banyana midfielder Portia Modise, who scored in the international friendly played in Rustenburg on 3 June , said the Nigerians fielded their full strength team during the friendly matches and believes the Banyana Banyana can break the mental block to record their first-ever win over the Super Falcons.
“The players are so keen to get the win over Nigeria and give South African football fans lots to be proud of as the win will allow our team to make the Final, which is one step further than what we achieved at the CAF 2010 African Women Championship,” boasted Modise.
Banyana finished as the bronze medalists at the African showpiece event two years ago, going down to Equatorial Guinea in the semi-final, but beating Cameroon in the play-off match for third spot.
At this year’s tournament, the South Africans finished second on the Group A log, recording wins against Senegal (1-0) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (4-1) and went down (1-0) to the hosts, Equatorial Guinea in the opening fixture.
Adding her voice to the words is another veteran but in the nest of the Falcons, Mbachu, who one of the goals in the 1998 Final, when Nigeria won the first African Women crown in Abeokuta, Nigeria, reiterated that the team is confident and ready to win the semi-final duel.
In her words “I’m very confident going into the semis, everyone in the team is mentally prepared for the challenge and ready to give our best and retain the title”.
Will the Banyana Banyana break the jinx today; this would either be decided in regulation time, after extra time or via penalties?