South Africa predicts tough Olympics qualifier against Nigeria

• Banyana Banyana begin training ahead of April 5 clash in Abuja

South Africa’s coach, Desiree Ellis, has likened their 2024 Olympics qualifier against Nigeria to the final round in a boxing match where a boxer has to deliver a knockout to win, reports

Banyana will meet the Super Falcons in the fourth round of qualifiers, with the first scheduled for April 5 in Abuja. The winners will join Brazil, Japan and world champions, Spain, in group C in the eight-team tournament in Paris in July and August.Speaking at a media day as her team began a training camp at the University of Pretoria, yesterday, Ellis said: “It’s a win or go home tie.

“We know how big the game is and we don’t need to motivate anyone for it — we are excited to be back in camp.”
The second leg will be played at Loftus Stadium on April 9 and tickets for that game went on sale last week.

Ellis’s 2022 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (Wafcon) champions might be confident of a winning result. Nigeria gave the South Africans a great deal of trouble before the past five results, where Banyana won four and lost one.

“Having missed out on 2020 (the Tokyo Olympics), obviously it (going back to the Games) is the big box we have to tick.
“Having won the Wafcon in 2022, having gone to the last 16 of the World Cup (in Australasia in 2023), this is one of the boxes that as a group we haven’t ticked.”

What also will give Ellis confidence is the return of midfield skipper Refiloe Jane and defenders Bambanani Mbane, Sibulele Holweni and Bongeka Gamede from injuries. The four players missed the second and third rounds of the Olympic qualifiers against Democratic Republic of Congo (Banyana won 2-0) and Tanzania (1-0).

“I’m happy we have these players back. That warms my heart and is encouraging because those are our more experienced players and their experience is going to help in this situation.

“It might be hostile and we know how passionate the fans of Nigeria are — we need that experience to get over this hurdle.

“It will be a tough match because they haven’t been in Olympics since 2008 and their team has changed a bit since we last played them (at the 2022 Wafcon).

“They’re still one of the best teams on the continent. They’ve been serial winners (Nigeria have won 11 of 14 Wafcon titles) and have been consistent over the past few years. We’re in the same bracket but we’ve got to be consistent.” Ellis will announce her squad on Thursday and the team will depart for Abuja on Sunday.

“It will give us a lot of time to recover that side and prepare. The game has been moved from 4.00 p.m. to 5.00 p.m., which says the temperature (heat) is a problem for everyone.”

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