South Africa boosted its confidence by beating defending champion Nigeria 2-1 in its opening match of the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (WAFCON), according to coach Desiree Ellis.
Quick goals from Jermain Ciobosinoy and Hilda Magaya helped South Africa dominate the Group C clash in Morocco, despite the consolation of title holders Rachidat Aguibad.
The South African national team largely dominated Monday’s match but Banyana Banyana coach Ellis did not get carried away by the win and a performance that was widely celebrated by their fans at home and on social media.
“It feels good,” Ellis told BBC Sport Africa. “We’ve worked hard to make it happen.”
“We knew when the draw came the size of the match. I think it was bigger than it was because it’s Nigeria.
“It gives a lot of momentum, and this is a boost for the rest of the tournament. We are not going to get ahead of ourselves, because they are still a great team, and we want to get out of the group and get to the quarter-finals.”
Nigeria is a record nine-time WAFCON champion and has won the past three tournaments, with its match in Group C The 2018 final will be repeated in Ghana.
This proved to be Banyana Banyana’s second win over Nigeria in the past 10 months, after shocking the nine-times defending champions 4-2 in the Aisha Buhari Invitational Cup in Lagos.
Ellis added that the result in Nigeria last September gave them confidence ahead of their WAFCON meeting and set the tone for their approach in Rabat.
“We needed to have a little faith in us. Playing away in Nigeria and achieving such a great win would really take the players to a different level,” she added.
“We continued to show what was possible, and what we could do if you performed similarly. We did even better this time.”
Deja vu for idle Nigeria
Ajibad hit deep in overtime and gave the uncoordinated Nigeria a rare chance in a miserable match.
This is the second consecutive time that Nigeria have lost to South Africa in the opening match of the finals, having been defeated 1-0 four years ago but went on to retain the title on penalties.
But coach Randy Waldrum was surprised that the Super Falcons were lethargic, slow and the second best team in a match that critics took as an indicator of the tournament’s outcome.
“Our slow performance surprised us. We’ve trained really well in the past few weeks,” the American admitted.
“I’m a bit surprised we didn’t go a little further up front. So we have to figure out why and get a settlement for the next step as well.
“Obviously scoring a late goal in the fight was positive. We didn’t stop playing, we kept trying to get it in the last 10 minutes.
“I think it’s positive to show that we still have that character to fight to the end.”
Leicester City defender Ashley Bloomer was a bright spot for West Africa, but she suffered defeat on her debut in the tournament for Nigeria.
She admitted that the South Africans deserved the three points, but remains confident in the title holders’ ability to recover from the setback.
“I think they played really good football and the team play was really good. Especially in midfield, they managed to pull the strings a lot,” the 24-year-old told BBC Sport Africa.
“We haven’t changed anything in the time we probably should have. I really hope we’ll face them again, because I think we’ll be better prepared next time.”
“Once the match is over, it will probably be a replica of the last (WAFCON). The last time we played in the 2018 tournament, if that’s the case, then so be it.”
Newcomers share the thriller of six goals
Elsewhere in Group C, young Ketumitsi Dithebe scored Botswana’s first goal of the tournament en route to a 4-2 win over newcomers Burundi.
Dithebe finished off a good team effort by taking out a volley in the top corner to defeat goalkeeper Genen Iracuse before the break, and Lecigo Radiacaneo doubled the lead after the second half.
The elegant move saw Sandrine Nyonkoro pounce on a loose ball to pull the difference for Burundi after five minutes.
But Riveloy Thulacili scored a quick double in the 55th and 59th minutes to give Botswana a 4-1 lead, but Nyonkoru’s fierce second goal for East Africa in the 81st minute was not enough.
Botswana leads Group C on goal difference over South Africa, with the two teams returning again on Thursday against Nigeria and Burundi respectively.