Starting away against Nigeria gives Banyana Banyana an advantage, says Lebohang Ramalepe

Lebohang Ramalepe, seen here during Banyana training in Abuja yesterday, is not reading too much into past games against Nigeria. Picture: BackpagePix

Lebohang Ramalepe, seen here during Banyana training in Abuja yesterday, is not reading too much into past games against Nigeria. Picture: BackpagePix

Published Apr 2, 2024


Banyana Banyana defender Lebohang Ramalepe says they are ready for their “do-or-die” clash with sworn rivals Nigeria in the Paris Olympics qualifiers.

Banyana have been the most successful team on the continent recently, winning the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations crown and qualifying for back-to-back World Cups.

But their only blemish has been the Olympics. The Desiree Ellis-coached side last qualified for the quadrennial global showpiece eight years ago.

They missed out on the last Olympics in Tokyo in 2021, and they’ve worked tirelessly to make it to the finals in Paris later this year.

Bafana will meet their arch-rivals the Super Falcons in the final round of the qualifiers, with the winner set to join Spain, Japan and Brazil in Group C in Paris.

The South Africans have been hard at work, preparing for the first leg away to Nigeria at MKO Abiola Stadium in Abuja on Friday (6pm kick-off, SA time).

Their journey began with a preparation camp at the High Performance Centre in Pretoria last week, which was attended by locally-based players only.

Ellis put her head on the block on Saturday, announcing her final 24-member squad for the qualifier before they flew out to Nigeria on Sunday.

After the team held their first training session in Abuja yesterday, with some overseas-based players such as Refiloe Jane joining the group, Banyana were in high spirits.

“To be honest, this is going to be a tough game. Remember, both teams didn’t qualify for the last Olympics. So, it’s a do-or-die!” Ramalepe said.

“But we are ready because we know how important the game is. It’s just a matter of going there and doing our best (on the day).”

With the away goals rule not applying in the Olympic qualifiers, playing at home or away in the first leg might seem pointless. But not for Ramalepe.

“Personally, I think if we start by playing the away leg, that gives us an advantage. When you go home, you have the home advantage,” she said.

“So, it’s a matter of playing away from home, giving your best because that’s all that you can do at the end of the day.”

Banyana will play the return leg next Tuesday at Loftus Versfeld (7.30pm).

— Banyana_Banyana (@Banyana_Banyana) April 1, 2024

Given the previous meetings between these two powerhouses of African football, the odds favour Banyana to go through.

After all, they beat the Super Falcons in four of their last five meetings, with Banyana’s last win coming in the group stage of the 2022 Wafcon.

But again, Ramalepe is not reading too much into the past, especially given the fact that a lot has happened since the last time the two nations crossed paths.

“It has to be a different ball game because remember, those games are in the past and it’s now a new challenge for both teams,” Ramalepe acknowledged.

“Both teams know how important this is. If we look back, then I think we are going to lose ourselves. We need to stay focused and approach these games differently.”

With the next World Cup in 2027 and Olympics in 2028, the Paris finals might be the last hurrah at a global showpiece for some of Banyana’s players.

For instance, 38-year-old Noko Matlou will be 41 when the next World Cup comes around and 42 when the next Olympics is held, making it highly unlikely that she’ll go to either event.

So, that’s why the 32-year-old Ramalepe has encouraged the senior players and youngsters in the team to ensure they do not miss the chance of beating Nigeria.

“We always tell them (the young players) that these games are important. Remember, some of the senior players won’t be there in the next four years,” she said.

“So, it’s a matter of the youngsters getting the experience of going to the Olympics now. They know how important this game is (for everyone). It’s a do-or-die!”