Houston Dash forward Linda Kgatlana came off the bench and smashed a long-range strike that sailed beyond the groping hands of goalkeeper Tochukwu Oluehi in the 85th minute as South Africa edged the Super Falcons 1-0 in Gold Coast on Sunday.
This was the opening match of the ongoing African Women Cup of Nations tournament where the top three nations will qualify for the FIFA World Cup in France next June.
The battle of Nigeria against South Africa started at the FNB Stadium on Saturday when an own goal by Buhle Mkhwanazi gifted the Super Eagles the lead but Percy Tau was to cast his magic spell a few minutes later to create the easiest of taps for Lebo Mothiba as the 2019 African Cup of Nations qualifier ended square.
But Banyana Banyana, at the receiving end of the Super Falcons since1994, turned the tables against the Nigerians who looked unsettled and surprisingly gave possession cheaply against a Banyana side that refused to be intimidated.
“I am very disappointed that we lost the game,” Nigeria coach Thomas Dennerby told CAFONLINE. “It would have been fair if the game had ended in a draw. We had a bit more of the possession and South Africa are really good on counter attacks; we were aware and had analysed before the game so we knew what was coming. I think everybody will agree that we should have scored at least once in the first half and we missed that chance.”
If anything, this weekend results just proved that South Africa has finally taken the Nigerian monkey off their backs and no longer fear their West African rivals although Bafana still have it all to do against Libya while Banyana have taken a significant step towards France 2019.
“We played against a very good side today and one moment of loss of concentration decided the game,” said South African coach Desiree Ellis. “I said at the pre-match press conference that we needed to be phenomenal and execute the plan we had devised for the match.
“Even though they had a lot of possession, they didn’t really fight us except only in one moment. It took us a moment of brilliance to decide the match. We planned very well and executed it. We gave it all out there and we said the first game of the tournament is the most important and it is even bigger playing Nigeria.
“The victory is not only for us but for the people back home. Our preparations started at the beginning of the year. After the Cyprus Cup, we played against Sweden and then qualified for the AWCON by beating Lesotho.
“We had a very good preparation at the COSAFA Cup with Cameroon also being part. It spiced up the COSAFA. We then went to Chile so we really had very good preparations.
“But preparations don’t guarantee you success because you have to execute your plans and when the draw came out the first game of every tournament is always the most important.
“It doesn’t come easier when you are facing Nigeria, eight time winners. Nonetheless it is still the first game of the tournament and getting a positive result in that game will set the tone. We have really prepared well.”
Although shading possession slightly in the first half, the Super Falcons never really troubled Banyana where Bambanani “Juice” Mbane and skipper Janine van Wyk stood resolute in the heart of defence and goalkeeper Kaylin Swart was never tested throughout the first half.
Osisat Oshoala, who was later cautioned for unsporting behaviour, broke through in the first half and laid on a dream pass for Ugochi Oparanozie, but the latter executed the kind of shot that probably disturbed the flight of birds in the sky and South Africa breathed a sigh of relief.
Then SA coach Ellis played a master stroke as she introduced the pacey Kgatlana and she proved a match winner as her speed gave the static Nigerian defence plenty to think about. It came as no surprise when she received a well-executed pass from Linda Motlhalo, controlled and finished with aplomb.