Banyana Banyana came out on top in Africa’s biggest game, as they comfortably beat the Super Falcons 2-1. Two superb team goals finished by Jermaine Seoposenwe and Hildah Magaia in the second capped off an excellent performance from South Africa.
Rasheedat Adibaje pulled one back for the nine-time champions in the final minutes, but in truth, once South Africa went 2-0 up there was no way back for Nigeria.
Banyana Banyana again dominate Nigeria
Despite failing to beat South Africa in the previous three matches in normal time, Nigeria came into the match as clear favourites for most pundits. But as has been the case in recent years, South Africa were the much better side.
Since her arrival in 2016, head coach Desiree Ellis has coached her team to play a very strong brand of pressing football. Right from kick off the South Africans were camped in the Nigerian half as time and time again, the Super Falcons struggled to get the ball out into midfield.
On the ball, South Africa are a joy to behold. Pre-match Ellis spoke of playing a style of football that suited her, “short team,” and they executed that plan with precision. Captain on the day Refiloe Jane and Linda Motlhalo pulled the strings in midfield with Jane in particular looking a class above her opposition.
Ahead of the two central midfielders, Banyana employed a fluid front four, spear headed by Thembi Kgatlana. While her strike partner Seoposenwe regularly dropped deep to support the midfield, Kgatlana was a menace running forward. She ran the channels superbly, and showed her terrific pace which terrified a Nigeria backline included centre-backs aged 30 and 39.
Nigeria off the pace against South Africa
Nigeria looked like a team playing with the pressure of an entire continent on their shoulders. The team was never able to play their own football, and constantly looked nervy when pressed.
They were not helped by the early injury to talisman Asisat Oshoala. The Barcelona forward took a heavy challenge from Alice Matlou, and despite refusing to come off, was severely limited in her mobility.
With an immobile forward up top, Nigeria were no longer able to press and had no outlet when they had the ball. Oshoala was still an inevitable threat when she was able to get in the box, but those chances were few and far between.
To their credit, in the final ten minutes, with substitutes coming on, they were able to pressure South Africa leading to Adibaje’s goal. Francisca Ordega, in particular looked lively when she came on.
But that also begs the question, why did it coach Randy Waldrum 70 minutes to make his first change. And why did it take 82 minutes to take Oshoala off.
Super Falcons have a tough task ahead
In 2018 these sides met in the first group game with South Africa winning by a one goal margin. This happened before Nigeria went on to beat the South Africans in the final two weeks later. But the goal margin is where the similarities of the matches stop.
South Africa did not compete in an even contest before having a substitute scoring a late winner. This was a statement performance, in which South Africa laid out their credentials as the best team in South Africa.
But Nigeria should not be written off. Because of the new format of the tournament, if they come second in the group they will play runners-up in Group B rather than the group winners. They also are a team who have the experience to learn from this loss and come back stronger.
Nigeria’s biggest concern will be with how Oshoala’s knee is. Africa’s biggest star has been so dominant in this competition in the last three editions and is at the peak of her powers. She also has missed long portions of this season with an injury. The technical team and nation will be waiting on tenterhooks for a diagnosis.
Tournament football often comes down to experience and mental strength. Nigeria certainly have the experience of tournament football. They showed in 2018 that they have the strong mentality to win games on the narrowest of margins.
But they have never suffered such a loss in the WAFCON in their history. And their metal will be tested more than it ever has. If they are to recover and make it to the final, they are likely to face this South Africa team once more. And, will have to dig deeper than they ever have in this tournament if they want to win their tenth title.
Nigeria – Oluehi (gk), Ohale, Plumptre, Ebi (c), T. Payne, Oshoala, Onumonu, Chikwelu, Ajibade, Ayinde, Alozie
Substitutes: Kanu, Ordega, Ikechukwu
South Africa – Dlamini (gk), Ramalepe, Matlou, Magaia, Cesane, Motlhalo, Kgatlana, Seoposenwe, Mbane, Jane, Holweni
Substitutes: Gamede, Motau, Moodaly