Banyana in ‘group of death’

2012-04-25 00:00

BANYANA Banyana’s hopes of competing for an Olympic medal in London this year were dealt a massive blow yesterday when coach Joseph Mkhonza’s charges were placed in the “group of death” alongside Japan, Sweden and Canada.

Japan are the current world champions, while Sweden finished third at last year’s Fifa World Cup, and Banyana will enter their first major international tournament knowing that their group opponents occupy three of the top seven spots in the world rankings. Banyana are a modest 65th.

On paper Banyana couldn’t have asked for a tougher draw yesterday, but Pietermaritzburg-based goalkeeper Mphile Zungu is confident the side has the ability to progress to the knockout stages of the competition.

“It is a very tough draw, but you know how football goes. I am sure that we will be able to compete,” Zungu told The Witness yesterday.

Zungu said that the threat posed by the Japanese was the most dangerous for Banyana in Group F.

“They are the world champions and they will be very difficult to play against,” she said.

“They can run for 90 minutes and beyond and their league structures back home are far better than ours.”

Zungu was part of the squad that met up with Mkhonza in Stellenbosch two weeks ago, and said she was working extremely hard to ensure that she would be on the plane to London come July.

“I think the squad will only be announced in June, but I am sure I will be in it,” she said.

The only boon for the South Africans is that they have avoided the pre-tournament favourites, the United States, who are in Group G alongside France, North Korea and Colombia.

Great Britain, Brazil, New Zealand and Cameroon make up Group E in the 12-team tournament.

While nobody expects Banyana to seriously challenge for a medal, stranger things have happened in sport and the “underdog” tag has worked wonders for teams with abundant passion.

The truth is that Banyana have outshone the men completely.

The South African U23 side failed to qualify for the men’s section of the tournament while Pitso Mosimane’s Bafana Bafana were dismal in their campaign to qualify for this year’s African Cup of Nations.

For Zungu and her team-mates, though, winning a medal would be surreal. “It would be brilliant, especially because this is our first time going to the Olympics,” said Zungu.

“We are all working very hard when we meet and the coach is happy with what we are doing, so we will see how it goes.”

The Olympic Games run from July 27 to August 12.

• sport@witness.co.za

OLYMPIC DRAW

Men’s Tournament

Group A: Great Britain, Senegal, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay

Group B: Mexico, South Korea, Gabon, Switzerland

Group C: Brazil, Egypt, Belarus, New Zealand

Group D: Spain, Japan, Honduras, Morocco

Note: The top two teams from each group go through to the quarter-finals.

Women’s Tournament

Group E: Great Britain, New Zealand, Cameroon, Brazil

Group F: Japan, Canada, Sweden, South Africa

Group G: USA, France, Colombia, North Korea

Note: The top two teams from each group and the two best third-placed teams qualify for the quarter-finals.

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