Banyana Banyana sounded a championship warning in 2021 Aisha Buhari cup after emphatically beating Ghana 3-0 in their opening fixture in Nigeria on Friday evening.
The Black Queens hope were very high before this kick with coach Mercy Tagoe Kweku naming a strong side against South Africa. However, hopes were tarnished in opening minutes after Bayana Bayana broke the deadlock.
It was rare for South Africa to field a full-strength team in continental competition, and this time all foreigne stars flew in for the tournament.
On the strength of this performance, South Africa will be the team to beat though Black Queens were sloppy. South Africa produced delightful fare in the first half, which ended with South Africa leading 1-0 thanks to a 17th-minute goal by Hildah Magaia, who nodded home the stray ball after it bounced off the crossbar after a Thembi Kgatlana shot on goal. Kgatlana had latched on to a long pass, and wormed her way past the Ghana defence down the middle, before unleashing a shot.
By this time, a goal was imminent since South Africa showed great cohesion on sorties into the opposition half, as they traded heavily on a crisp inter-passing game. It was an extraordinary performance since the squad had only assembled two days earlier.
Ghana’s response to the opening goal was swift, and their midfield produced some neat touches to send Grace Asantewaa clear, but her parting shot was smartly gathered by South African goalkeeper Kaylin Swart, who looked superbly confident between the sticks all afternoon. Asantewaa, who plies her trade with Spanish Primera División club Real Betis, was closely marked by the opposition defence.
After half an hour’s play, South Africa’s pressure forced three corners, but they could not exploit their chances, and that was the cue for Ghana to change tact. They opted to work most of their possession down the right flank, and for while the ploy worked.
Nigeria’s Fifa badged referee Patience Madu Ndidi had her hands full coping with several shows of physicality, with South Africa taking more knocks. At one stage, television cameras were trained on their coach Desiree Ellis who was shaking her head in disapproval.
South Africa missed a gilt-edged chance to go further ahead, but there was no one at hand to steer the ball into an empty net after a powerful Kgatlana strike. Ghana’s goalkeeper Fafali Dumehasi brought off a full-length dive to parry Kgatlana’s shot, and the ball trickled past the goals before the defence pounced to clear.
After this let off Ghana switched play to the opposite end and in a goalmouth frenzy, Ghana had three attempts on goal cleared. Swart bravely cleared once, and her supporting defence rallied twice in quick succession.
In added time at the end of the first half, South African striker Gabriela Salgado was unlucky not to score when her shot from range struck the crossbar.
After the break, Ghana looked the likelier to score and it could well have materialised, but Swart once again intervened.
Moments later there was a transition in play that caught Ghana napping. Kgatlana ran in from 35 metres out and turned the opposition defence inside out before rounding the hapless goalkeeper. The match commentator referred to the effort as a “world-class goal” and South Africa took a commanding 2-0 lead.
Straight after this goal, Ghana’s heads dropped and with that, they seemed to lose their thrust. Half an hour into the second half Swart took a knock after a collision and after medical attention, she remained in goals.
Ghana tried long-ball tactics later in the second half after they made several substitutions. The fresh legs did manage some high press towards the end, but South Africa’s defence, well marshalled by captain Janine Van Wyk, cleared their lines whenever threats emerged.
At the death, Sibulele Holweni drove the final nail in the Ghana coffin with South Africa ending the game 3-0. South Africa will take on hosts Nigeria in their next match on Tuesday.