Banyana must show World Cup display wasn’t a fluke against Nigeria, says Bongeka Gamede

Bongeka Gamede, seen here during training in Abuja, says Banyana’s early arrival will help them deal with the heat against Nigeria tomorrow. Photo: BackpagePix

Bongeka Gamede, seen here during training in Abuja, says Banyana’s early arrival will help them deal with the heat against Nigeria tomorrow. Photo: BackpagePix

Published Apr 4, 2024


Banyana Banyana will have one less problem to worry about when they face arch-rivals Nigeria at the MKO Abiola Stadium in Abuja tomorrow night (6pm kick-off, SA time).

Banyana have been in Abuja for the last five days, gearing up for the first leg of the final Olympic qualifier against the west Africans.

So, thanks to their early departure – which was made possible by Safa and sponsors Sasol – Banyana have been adapting to the scorching Nigerian heat.

Pretoria, where Banyana held a preparation camp last week, has been averaging 25ºC, while Abuja has been peaking at 35 degrees this week.

And with 17 players from coach Desiree Ellis’ 24-member squad all playing their club football in South Africa, it was important that they leave for Nigeria earlier.

Ellis’ locally-based players touched down in Abuja on Sunday, while the overseas-based unit – except for Sinoxolo Cesane – started arriving from Monday.

Owing to travel issues, Cesane couldn’t join the team in Abuja directly from Mexico, but could still join the team at home for Tuesday’s second leg at Loftus Versfeld.

“It helped to arrive earlier. We’ve had two training sessions, and we’ll have two more,” defender Bongeka Gamede, who’s based in South Africa, said this week.

“I think the early arrival will also help us adapt to the heat because we’ll be playing in the afternoon (5pm Nigerian time).”

Banyana had their third training session late last night, with Ellis changing her schedule after training in the afternoon on Monday and Tuesday.

Except for Cesane, Ellis must be happy to have a full-strength squad, given disruptions such as visa issues, injuries and exam schedules in the previous qualifiers.

Banyana have six overseas-based players in camp – including the returning Refiloe Jane – compared to Nigeria, who have 20 in their 22-member squad.

But Nigeria will underestimate Banyana at their own peril. South Africa won the Wafcon tournament, and finished in the last 16 at the World Cup.

Gamede, who was one of the standout players for the national team in the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand last year, fitted well into the role of defensive midfielder.

So, marking her first return to the national team since sustaining a long-term injury, she said that they want to prove that their World Cup play-off outcome wasn’t a surprise.

“It’s very important to play well. Since we played well at the World Cup, we need to show that it wasn’t a fluke,” the University of the Western Cape (UWC) skipper said.

It would have been fitting for the continent to have both Banyana and Nigeria qualify for the Olympic Games in Paris this winter.

After all, these are arguably the best teams on the continent at the moment, having both won the Wafcon and reached the last 16 in the last global showpiece.

But only one team can win the two-legged tie and join Spain, Brazil and Japan in Group C in Paris.

And while the two teams know each other very well – with Banyana winning the last two games – goalkeeper Kaylin Swart said Nigeria should be wary of them.

“Women’s football is growing in South Africa, so we are better than we used to be. I think it’s going to be a real battle,” the Banyana No 1 said.

“I think the element of surprise is going to be there. I know that Nigeria is probably going to come out guns blazing, but we must grind out the result.”