Reigning African Champions South Africa were held to a 1-all draw by the Democratic Republic of Congo in their second round first leg fixture of the 2024 Paris Women’s Olympic qualifiers.
The clash took place on Wednesday, 25 October in Kinshasa.
Playing in hot conditions on an artificial surface, the home side settled in quicker and controlled the proceedings in the opening stanza, with visiting goalkeeper Kaylin Swart called upon several times to save her side – especially from a point blank shot in the 10th minute.
“These are the things that we work on at training and there’s a reason why we work so hard because we never know when we’re going to be called upon as goalkeepers, but I’m just happy to have helped the team today. We all know it’s not easy playing on the continent but obviously the stakes are pretty high, we want to qualify for the Olympics that we missed out on in the last one,” said a beaming Swart.
But she unfortunately couldn’t do anything from a Grace Mfwamba strike at close range after she evaded her marker and grabbed the opening goal five minutes before the break.
The South Africans returned from the recess looking a better side, with Head Coach Desiree Ellis making only one change, bringing on the speedy Nicole Michael for Amogelang Motau.
The move bore dividends almost immediately as the TS Galaxy Queens winger outsprinted her marker from a Swart long ball, passed to captain Thembi Kgatlana to tap in the equalizer in the 48th minute.
No matter how much both sides tried to get a winner, it ended in a stalemate.
“We got an away goal, but I thought it could have been more than one. We had a couple of chances really to put the game to bed, so it’s all still to play for the second game. We had one training session though and we’re really proud of the players the way they performed completely new backline as well a very young backline so it really all goes well for the future but there’s still a lot of work to be done. “There were two 21-year-olds, one 20-year-old and one 22-year-old, and they were playing together for the first time. So I am very happy,” Ellis told SAFA.net
“We knew they were going to be physical we also knew that they had strength and speed down the wings. I thought we could have defended the goal a little bit better but reaction after that was really good when we got the goal early and it’s all to play for the second leg.”
The new-look defence was Lonathemba Mhlongo (CD), Fikile Magama (RB), Wendy Shongwe in an unfamiliar position at left back, as well as Karabo Dhlamini who shifted from left back to central defence.
Dhlamini was the only recognized face at the back against DR Congo – and the only remaining defender from the World Cup squad due to the absence of the regular trio of Bambanani Mbane (injured), Bongeka Gamede (exams) and Lebohang Ramalepe (not selected).
With the new defence guided by Swart, Dhlamini was full of praise for her department.
“Today’s game was difficult, more so because we had new faces in defence. I think we worked very hard and did well under the circumstances. Getting the goal was key because it’s never easy playing away – so the draw is good for us because when we get back home we have to work even harder,” said Dhlamini.
“Before the start of the game, the coach told us to trust one another, be brave and show what we are capable of. Coming back from a goal down showed character but we knew we would score – we just needed to make sure they didn’t score again.”
With that away goal, it’s advantage South Africa but the pressure is still on Banyana Banyana when they host DR Congo on Monday, 30 October at the Orlando Stadium.
“There was a lot of pressure on us today, but I must give credit to the youngsters that stepped up in the back line, they made me so proud the way they fought for every ball. Congo is a physical team, and they have very speedy wingers, but I think we contained them quite a bit today. The pressure is still on us, we always going to go in as African champions and everyone’s wants to beat Banyana Banyana, but on the day I think we just need to step up and show why we are superior. They are going to come with a lot of pressure again at the home leg, but I think we have enough quality in our team to get over that hurdle,” added Swart.
“I think the girls showed so much character in the second half and there was a lot of chances that we could capitalize on, but we know what we need to do in the second leg now and hopefully everyone’s learned some valuable lessons from this game, and make sure that we finish all the chances that we created.”
Having seen how difficult the first leg was, the African Champions will most certainly welcome Mexico-based forward Jermaine Seoposenwe to boost the forwards and get the much-needed goals to win the match.
She was unable to travel to the DR Congo as she was sorting out her residence permit.
“It’s going to be another difficult game back in South Africa I think we can play better than what we did today. There were some really good moments when we moved the ball around especially when we scored but we didn’t have many of those moments. There were a few chances that we could have put the game to bed if we were a little bit more clinical in front of goal and make sure that we get a win out of this. We have to be at our absolute best back in South Africa and ensure we are much more organized in all departments. We will have some players who were not available today and that should help a lot,” said Ellis.
The second round of the qualifiers sees all four African representatives at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup enter the fray after getting byes in the first round.
South Africa has been paired with the DR Congo, while Nigeria (vs Ethiopia), Zambia (vs Mali who have withdrawn, Zambia moves to the third round without kicking a ball) and Morocco (vs Namibia).
Only five African nations have been to the Olympic Games since the debut of Women’s Olympic Football Tournament in Atlanta 1996 – South Africa Cameroon, Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Two spots for CAF’s representatives are up for grabs for the 2024 edition of the Games, and the identity of the pair will only be known in April next year.
Banyana Banyana will be travelling on Thursday (26 October) and will continue with their preparations for the return leg.
Tickets for the second leg are free and can be collected at Orlando Stadium.
SA Starting 11 v DR Congo:
Kaylin Swart (GK), Fikile Magama, Wendy Shongwe, Lonathemba Mhlongo, Karabo Dhlamini, Kholosa Biyana, Noxolo Cesane, Amogelang Motau (46’ Nicole Michael) Gabriela Salgado, Hilda Magaia, Thembi Kgatlana (c)
Andile Dlamini (GK), Katlego Moletsane (GK), Janine van Wyk, Faith Nokuthula, Asanda Hadebe, Linda Motlhalo, Ayesha Moosa, Nicole Michael
Head Coach: Desiree Ellis
2024 CAF WOMEN’S OLYMPIC QUALIFYING TOURNAMENT
SECOND ROUND FIRST LEG RESULTS:
|TEAM 1||AGGREGATE SCORE||TEAM 2||1ST LEG||2ND LEG|
|Benin||–||Ghana||27 Oct||31 Oct|
|Namibia||–||Morocco||26 Oct||31 Oct|
|Uganda||–||Cameroon||26 Oct||31 Oct|
|Tanzania||–||Botswana||26 Oct||31 Oct|
|DR Congo||–||South Africa||1–1||30 Oct|
By Matlhomola Morake