Past disappointments will serve as a major motivator for Banyana Banyana when they tackle Mali in the semifinals of the African Women’s Championship on Tuesday‚ with the side seeking to book their ticket to the FIFA Women’s World Cup in France at the first time of asking.
Banyana need to finish in the top three in Ghana to seal a first ever World Cup appearance and have come desperately close in the past only to fall short‚ there are years of hurt to make up for on Tuesday.
Coach Desiree Ellis will know too that should the side fail on Tuesday they will face a potentially tougher third-fourth place play-off against either Cameroon or Nigeria‚ who contest the second semi-finals.
They have beaten both teams this year‚ but in the heat of a pressurised fixture‚ it will be a tough ask for them to do so again. On paper‚ at least‚ Mali look the weaker of the three potential opponents to book that World Cup spot.
It was a similar scenario in 2014 when Banyana needed to beat Ivory Coast in the bronze-medal match to reach the World Cup in Canada‚ but despite creating a host of excellent opportunities‚ conceded late and somehow contrived to lose 1-0.
The team also finished fourth in 2016‚ showing their recent semi-final record has not been great.
“If we look back at 2014 we were unlucky when playing Ivory Coast because we missed so many chances and then conceded late on when it was too late to come back‚” Ellis said.
“In the last edition against Ghana we also had numerous opportunities and gave the goal away at the set-piece. We must learn from that.”
Ellis believes that the side will have to produce a showing to match that against Nigeria in their opening group game‚ where they won 1-0 and kept the defending champions down to just a single real opening in the game.
“If we can be as good defensively against Nigeria and not concede‚ we are sure that we will get a chance to score.
“We need to be super phenomenal with the tired legs having played three games and the travel back to the Cape Coast‚” the coach said.
“We have been talking about this and now it is time to really‚ really walk that talk‚ for everyone‚ the whole group of players need to be concentrated.
“We will have to manage the recovery well‚ we have to make sure the players are fresh. We have been in this scenario before‚ we have a lot of good people with us to discuss all of that‚ to make sure the players are fresh.
“We need to be clinical in our approach and on top of our game and be clinical in the first period‚ to wrap it up and then manage the rest of the game.
“We have to play through whatever tiredness‚ you have got to leave yourself on the field and make sure you give your all. It is going to take that superhuman effort to realise our dream.
“Mali will not be easy‚ they knocked out the hosts [Ghana] and ran Cameroon close. They have had an extra day’s rest too and are already in Cape Coast‚ so they have an advantage. We will have to make the best of our situation.”
Ellis is hoping too that the stage proves daunting for Mali‚ who are appearing in the continental semi-finals for the first time‚ a contrast to many of her players who have been to this stage numerous times before.
“It is their [Mali’s] first time in the semifinals‚ so they might have some nerves‚ they also know what is at stake‚ a place at the World Cup.
“We want to make sure we do what is necessary and not go into another game fighting for that World Cup place. If I was playing in a semifinal and I knew I had to win to book a place at the World Cup‚ I don’t think I would need any extra motivation than that.”