This was our best year, says Banyana head coach
Despite their failure to win a single match at the London Olympic Games, Banyana Banyana finished the year as the best performing South African football team.
Banyana also improved their continental ranking – from third to second.
This was after coach Joseph Mkhonza and his charges brought home a silver medal from the African Women’s Championship in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, two months ago.
They were thrashed 4-0 by the hosts in the final.
Although Banyana have never won gold at the women’s championship, they have made significant gains in recent times, despite a baptism of fire at the Olympics.
They lost 3-0 to Canada, 4-1 to Sweden and held Japan to a goalless draw.
Their Olympics qualification was a reflection of their growing status in world football. And now African female teams are looking forward to playing them.
Said Mkhonza: “We’ve grown up and we aren’t pushovers. Every team is fighting hard and we’ll have to fight a bit harder.
“I have every expectation that we’ll be there in Canada in 2015 (for Fifa Women’s World Cup).”
Apart from taking part in the Olympics, Banyana, under Mkhonza, managed to beat this year’s women’s championship favourites, Nigeria, 1-0 in the semifinals. That was arguably the most famous victory in South African football history.
“This was our best year. Our team has grown in stature over the last few years. But we would need consistent success in Africa to make the real breakthrough. We have bridged the gap. Nigeria were always outclassing us but teams have learned how to play them,” said Mkhonza.
“We have to look at what areas we need to improve on. I notice people are talking about Banyana. We are slowly getting the recognition we deserve.”
He also said his team would continue on their path to the next women’s championship, adding that he has set his sights on the World Cup. He insisted that he and his players would “do their best” to achieve that.
The former Kaizer Chiefs defender also said he was preparing for the Cyprus Cup in March. Banyana are in Group C, alongside Northern Ireland, South Korea and Ireland.
Mkhonza said their immediate plan was to improve from this year’s Cyprus Cup edition, where they finished 10th.
“People think women’s football in Africa is not that strong, but they’ve got it all wrong. We’ve got an experienced side, featuring several internationals, and we’re aiming for the title.
“We’re not going there (2014 African Women’s Championship in Namibia) just to play or make numbers. We are very sorry not to have won gold (in Equatorial Guinea in October) but 2014 remains our goal,” he said.
Mkhonza has been at the forefront of women’s football development in South Africa and Banyana, under his wings, have received widespread praise for their skilful and fluent brand of football.
Looking forward to 2014, he is looking at recruiting younger players.
“Young players have always been a priority. Luckily, a few are already coming through the ranks. I want to get them ready for 2014 and 2015.”
- Ntombi Moleme