Spain moved to the top of Group B with a resounding 3-1 victory over South Africa in their opening Fifa World Cup match at Stade Océane in Le Havre, France, last night.
Despite the loss, Banyana Banyana’s first 45 minutes at this global tournament will go down as the most memorable in their history.
A goal by Thembi Kgatlana in the 25th minute – making her the first African player and Banyana the first African side to score first against European opposition at the tournament since its inception in 1999 – was sweetly taken.
Despite coming against the run of play at a time when the La Roja were enjoying 73% of the possession, it had been coming. With Spain pressing forward from the onset in a move to unsettle their opponents, Banyana threatened every time they broke forward.
Prior to this goal, Mamelodi Sundowns goalkeeper Andile Dlamini had been the busiest of the two women between the sticks.
However, Dolores Gallardo could do nothing to stop the CAF African woman footballer of the year’s well-taken lob from way outside the D-line.
Up to this stage, the 42 places that separated the two teams – Spain was ranked seventh, while Banyana came in at number 49 – had been obvious. But the goal saw South Africa grow in confidence and, as the teams went down the tunnel for the half-time break, the most important statistic was 1-0 to Banyana.
Whatever coach Jorge Vilda told his charges during the break worked wonders as the Spaniards came out with guns blazing in the second half.
Banyana could have gone two-nil up with the ball falling to Kgatlana’s feet in front of an open goal, but she shot tamely with her weaker foot.
The tide turned when Banyana skipper Janine van Wyk was penalised in the 68th minute and Spain’s Jennifer Hermoso scored from the penalty spot to level matters, grabbing her 29th international goal.
She was back again in the 82nd minute with her second goal from the spot after the video assistant referee ruled that defender Nothando Vilakazi’s play was dangerous. She was sent off as this was her second booking.
Substitute Lucía García, who plays for Athletic Bilbao and is the team’s “baby” at 20, made it 3-1 with her 15th international goal.
Goalkeeper Dlamini, who had been outstanding right through, committed herself and missed the ball, thus giving the striker an easy tap-in.
Ode Fulutudilu, who plays as a forward for Spanish club Málaga and should have been the most familiar with the Spanish players, looked lonesome most of the time.
But coach Desire Ellis kept her on – maybe for too long – only to substitute her with Leandra Smeda in the 77th minute.
South Africans will have to look back to November 27 for Banyana’s last win in a competitive match – they eliminated Senegal 2-0 in the CAF Africa Women Cup of Nations semifinal.
From then, they lost 4-3 to Nigeria in penalties after the match ended in a goalless draw.
Since then, Banyana failed to win any of their nine matches, which included the Cyprus Cup and friendlies organised as part of their World Cup preparations.
These included an embarrassing 7-2 walloping by Norway in their ultimate warm-up match played in France last Sunday.
On the other hand, Spain won all their eight Uefa World Cup qualifiers, starting with a resounding 4-0 victory over Austria on November 28 2017 and culminating in a convincing 3-0 win over Serbia in September to finish with an impressive 100% record.
Meanwhile, Germany beat China 1-0 in an earlier game in the same group.
Banyana Banyana will play China on Thursday and round off the group-stage matches against Germany on June 17. – City Press correspondent