By FOCUS REPORTER
BANYANA Banyana booked their place as one of the two African nations to compete at the 2012 London Olympics when they played to a 1-1 draw against Ethiopia in the second leg fixture of the Olympic qualifier.
The SA side went to this away match which was played yetsreday on a muddy pitch at the Addis Ababa National Stadium highly motivated after having taken a 3-0 lead during the first leg, courtesy of three goals from striker Noko Matlou.
Playing in front of over 15 000 fans, the Ethiopians took the game to Banyana in the first half, but after a scoreless first 45 minutes, it was Nyandeni who crossed the ball from the left-hand side in the opening minute of the second period.
Ethiopian goalkeeper Liya Shibru Ossa was made to stretch high to collect the ball, and as she fell to the ground Banyana players protested that the ball had been held over the goal-line by the goalkeeper. After consulting with the assistant referee, the goal was awarded to take the visitors’ score-line to 4-0 over the two matches.
Banyana Banyana head coach Joseph Mkhonza then made some tactical changes with Nothando Vilakazi replacing the tough-tackling Yola Jafta in midfield, while Mary Ntsweng was introduced in the centre of the park for captain Amanda Dlamini.
With 12 minutes remaining, Banyana Banyana found themselves two players down when Matlou and left-back defender Gabisile ‘China’ Hlumbane were receiving medical attention off the field. The Ethiopians seized the opportunity against the 9-person Banyana Banyana, and Tibyin Mesfin Tameru fired home a shot from the edge of the penalty box to level the scores on the day.
Matlou, who was closely marked and continuously tackled down into the mud throughout the match, was replaced by Sasol League National Championships Player’s Player of the Tournament, midfielder Sanah Mollo late in the game.
As the final whistle blew to signify the South African Senior Women’s National team’s qualification for the 2012 Olympic showpiece, the Banyana Banyana team put on their ‘London Here We Come’ t-shirts and ran towards the 150-odd South African supporters in the grandstand, chanting songs of celebration.
“This will be Banyana Banyana’s first appearance at the Olympics since the team came into being in 1993 and the joy on the players’ faces is a sign of how much this moment means to them. We knew it would be tough playing Ethiopia in front of their home crowd, but our sponsor Sasol and Safa must be thanked for their commitment towards giving us a large number of camps and matches in 2011 to prepare for this moment. The fact that Banyana Banyana could hold their own in fielding two teams on the same day here in Ethiopia and at the All-Africa Games in Mozambique, is a sign of the depth that has been created in women’s football in SA,” said Mkhonza afterwards.
In 2011, Banyana have won 12 and drawn one of the 15 matches played.