Reality sinks in for Banyana Banyana

2012-04-28 18:51

Banyana Banyana coach Joseph Mkhonza says he will embrace the underdog tag in the team’s debut at the London Olympics in July.

A heavy dose of reality set in for the South Africans after Tuesday’s draw in which Banyana were pitted against world champions Japan, Sweden and Canada.

Mkhonza said he was well aware of his players’ strengths and weaknesses after his side’s participation in the 12-nation tournament in Cyprus last month.

Rated 65th in women’s world football, South Africa is the lowest-ranked side going to the London Games.

Their group opponents Japan are ranked third, Sweden fifth and Canada seventh in the latest Fifa women’s rankings.

Mkhonza said: “We’re a bit nervous – it’s the Olympics and it’ll be a great experience for all the players. We will be happy to be there. The pressure has been building up in the lead-up to the draw. We are relieved. We have to start planning.”

South Africa will face Sweden in their opening game on July 25 and Canada three days later. Their last group game against Japan follows on July 31.

“All our opponents are certainly tough teams. They all played last year’s World Cup in Germany and did well. It will be a stern test for our players,” said the former Kaizer Chiefs player.

Mkhonza said he was happy with his team’s fitness level.

“Our physical trainer (Warren Engelbrecht) has been working with the players behind the scenes, making sure they are physically prepared for what lies ahead,” he said.

“He drew up programmes for the players to follow and had one-on-one sessions with them over months.

“They are in good shape. Systems are in place. The players are hungry for success, and they know we’re playing for the nation. It’s no longer about them – they carry the hopes of all South Africans,” said Mkhonza.

He said that another camp would take place in Johannesburg early next month and revealed that the team would watch videos of their opponents to prepare for their matches.

“It is not easy. Japan are a well-organised team; they demonstrated in the World Cup that they are a good side. I think we are in the toughest group of the tournament.”

The other groups comprise: Great Britain, New Zealand, Cameroon and Brazil; and USA, France, Colombia and Korea DPR.

“It is important to make a great start. Everyone will be keen to do well and we know that all matches will be difficult.”

The Swedes are one of the heavyweights of the game and have qualified for every Olympics since 1996.

Canada are relatively new to the Olympic stage, but have been regulars at the Fifa Women’s World Cup.

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