Banyana urged to show spirit of champions

Gabriela Salgado and her Banyana teammates have been hard at work this week as they prepare for Nigeria. BackpagePix

Gabriela Salgado and her Banyana teammates have been hard at work this week as they prepare for Nigeria. BackpagePix

Published Apr 3, 2024



Banyana Banyana attacker Gabriela Salgado says they must prove why they are the African champs in the final Olympic qualifier first-leg clash with Nigeria in Abuja on Friday.

Gabriela Salgado and her Banyana teammates have been hard at work this week as they prepare for Nigeria. BackpagePix

Banyana won the last edition of the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations and qualified for back-to-back World Cups in 2019 and 2023 respectively.

So as they hunt for a spot in the Olympic Games in Paris later this year, they are expected to come out victorious.

But that’s easier said than done. They’ll meet rivals Nigeria in the ultimate decider, firstly in Abuja on Friday and then in Pretoria on Tuesday.

Desiree Ellis. | BackpagePix

Coach Desiree Ellis has most of her regulars available for selection, having had issues with injuries, visas and exam schedules in the past.

But boasting only seven overseas-based players – including returning captain Refiloe Jane – in her team, makes Ellis’ job a bit difficult.

Her opposite number Randy Waldrum has pulled out all the stops, naming only two locally-based players in the 22-member squad.

But having already settled in Nigeria after landing on Sunday, training Monday and yesterday, Salgado says they know what’s expected of them.

“We all know how important this game is – both teams want to qualify for the Olympics after missing out on the previous one,” she said.

“So, its massive giants playing against each other. As we are African champs, we need to go out and show everyone we deserve to qualify for the finals.”

Granted, Banyana’s squad depth is inferior to that of the star-studded Super Falcons, but they’ve always relied more on their camaraderie.

“I think the vibe is good. The energy is good. We all know what we are here for and everyone is in positive minds,” Salgado explained.

“We motivate each other. We are just looking forward to the game. We worked hard to get to this stage, we just need to finish it off now.”

Banyana’s early arrival in Nigeria was more to do with ensuring that the players seamlessly adapt to the environment, especially the heat.

Salgado said that the team’s strong mentality and previous campaigns in Nigeria should also be an advantage.

“I think it comes down to mind over matter. We need to put those things aside. We played in the Aisha Buhari Cup, the weather was the same,” she said.

“We won that cup. So I think it comes down to how badly we want it. And I think this team is prepared. So, there’s nothing that can stop us.”

It’s been three years since Banyana played and beat Nigeria in the Aisha Buhari Cup on home soil.

Fikile Magama with Nomvula Kgoale of South Africa training yesterday. | BackpagePix

The two giants of African football met again at the Wafcon last year, with Banyana again coming out tops in the group stage, winning 2-1.

So having lost the two games, many assume the Super Falcons will want to avenge themselves by breaking Banyana’s hearts.

But Banyana midfielder Nomvula Kgoale is not fazed. She says they’ve prepared for any eventuality and are ready to compete all round.

“We know that last time we beat them so they’ll want revenge. So this is really going to be a tough game here away and at home,” Kgoale said.

“But I am 100% sure that we are ready physically, emotionally, and mentally. So yeah, I feel we are ready to go.”