Banyana prepare for high stakes Olympic showdown against Nigeria

Banyana Banyana are bracing for a titanic battle against long-time rivals Nigeria when the two teams meet in the first leg of an eagerly anticipated Olympic showdown in Abuja on Friday afternoon.  

Coach Desiree Ellis’ charges have set their sights on qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games, but they must first get past the Super Falcons of Nigeria over the two legs of this CAF Women’s qualifier. As part of the tough challenge ahead, the Sasol-sponsored South African senior women’s team had a local camp that was held outside of the FIFA dates from 25 – 31 March 2024.

They then travelled to Nigeria early to acclimatize ahead of the match on Friday. A lot will be at stake as the two fierce rivals missed out on the last edition of the Olympics Games in Tokyo in 2021. Many believe that Banyana Banyana have the edge going into the two matches  after emerging victorious in the last two encounters against the Super Falcons, winning 4-2 in 2021 in the Aisha Buhari Cup, and again in the group stages of the 2022 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations in a 2-1 victory. 

Ellis and captain Refiloe Jane both emphasized that it would be a different ball game on Friday and past results would not matter in the all-important qualifier. Jane, who is making a return to the team since being sidelined by an injury at the 2023 FIFA World Cup, believes that with the number of days the team has had to acclimatize in Nigeria have been crucial for their preparations.

“It feels good to be back with the team, it has been a long journey of recovery. But all of it is behind me now. I am more focused on rejoining the team and making sure that I am able to share the  experience I have gained over the years,” said Jane.

“We have a mandate to qualify for the Olympic Games and that is what we are focused and working on as a team. We know the qualities that we have as a team and we will try to pool all that together and make sure we succeed.“Even though we have played Nigeria a couple of times and recently won against them, we still need to give them the respect they deserve. They are still the undisputed African champions when you look at the number of times they have ruled the continent in the WAFCON.”

Ellis agreed with Jane and further expressed gratitude to the South African Football Association (SAFA) and to sponsors Sasol for work that went into the preparations for the qualifier.“Firstly, I want to say thank you to SAFA and Sasol for making sure that we got here early and acclimatized. Even though we have got a heat wave in South Africa, it is a completely different heat,” Ellis said.

 “We put in a lot of work at home and we have also put in a lot of work here. The players have come in and put all of it together. I am very excited about the training, commitment, and the effort,” she concluded.

From the final 24-member squad announced a few days ago, Sinoxolo Cesane is the only player missing from the group and she will join the team in the return leg in South Africa. The first leg will be played on Friday, 5 April 2024 at the MKO Abiola Stadium, and kickoff is at 17:00pm (18:00pm CAT).

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