Keepers key to battle between Banyana and Super Falcons

Kaylin Swart of South Africa. | BackpagePix

Kaylin Swart of South Africa. | BackpagePix

Published Apr 9, 2024



Banayana Banyana goalkeeper and her Nigerian rival Chiamaka Nnadozie are shaping up as the key figures in today’s epic African women’s football showdown in the quest to secure a ticket to the Paris 2024 Olympics.

South Africa, the reigning Wafcon champions, will face off against Nigeria, Africa’s top-ranked team in the world, in the second leg of the final round of Olympic qualifying at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria (kick-off 7.30pm).

Kaylin Swart of South Africa. | BackpagePix

Nigeria won Friday’s first-leg encounter at the MKO Abiola Stadium in Abuja 1-0, with Atletico Madrid forward Rasheedat Ajibade scoring a penalty just before half-time. This proved to be the difference between the two sides.

Nnadozie told the Nigerian media that the Super Falcons won’t be intimidated by South African fans, even if they packed the 51 000-seater stadium. She said the Nigerians are used to big battles and the team will take today’s second leg in their stride.

The Nigerian shot-stopper plays for Paris FC in France’s Division 1 Féminine and is an experienced campaigner who made her World Cup debut at the age of 19 at the 2019 World Cup in France. As Nigeria’s starting goalkeeper in the team’s 2-0 victory over Korea, Nnadozie became the youngest goalkeeper to keep a clean sheet at the World Cup.

Nigeria has no fears about South Africa’s home-ground advantage.

“At the end of the day the grass will be green and it will be 11 players against 11 players. We are ready,” said Nnadozie.

“The Super Falcons are used to big battles. This one will not be any different.”

Chiamaka Nnadozie of Nigeria. | BackpagePix

Nnadozie recalled Nigeria’s famous win in Brisbane at last year’s World Cup where 52 000 fans were cheering for host nation Australia.

“Australia’s Matildas were playing on their home ground at the World Cup, but we defeated them,” said Nnadozie.

Swart, Banyana’s goalmouth custodian, also rose to prominence at the last World Cup where she established herself as the team’s first-choice keeper amid great controversy. However, she proved herself and played a big part in helping the team to a round of 16 berth.

Trying to overturn the 1-0 deficit will be a massive challenge for the South Africans but Swart feels the team has matured and is capable of rising to the occasion.

“We, as a national team, have grown so much over the years,” said Swart, ”and every obstacle we faced helped us grow day by day.

“The main thing that led us to where we are now is the unity and chemistry. In this team it is second to none, combined with the individual brilliance of our players as well as the overall growth of women’s football in our country.

“Playing against Nigeria is always a great battle. We are familiar with each other only because we have had battles for many years up until now and this one is no different.

“I have full confidence in my teammates, and I think if we just stick to our strengths as a team and play for each other, we will get the result we need.”

The aggregate winner of the tie will play in Group C at the Olympics against Spain, Brazil and Japan.

CAF has appointed north African match officials for the second leg in Pretoria. Tunisian Dorsaf Ganouati will be the referee and compatriots Houda Afine and Emna Ajbouni will be the first assistant and fourth official, respectively. Egyptian Yara Atef Said Abdelfattah will be the second assistant referee.

Only five African countries have taken part in the women’s Olympic football tournament since its inception in Atlanta in 1996. They are Nigeria (1996, 2000, 2004, 2008), Cameroon (2012), South Africa (2012, 2016), Zimbabwe (2016) and Zambia (2020).