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So close for our brave Banyana

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Putting aside her disappointment at not lifting the trophy, the captain described her team as 'true warriors' who were left exhausted after every game as they gave their all.

OH SO CLOSE: South African players are dejected after the 2018 TOTAL African Womens Cup of Nations final against Nigeria at the Accra Sports Stadium on Saturday.

PENALTY shoot-outs are such a cruel (some would say unfair) way to decide a football match – as our courageous Banyana Banyana found out in heartbreaking fashion on Saturday night.

Banyana fought like tigers in the African Women Nations Cup final against Nigeria, pushing the champions of the continent to the limit over 90 minutes, and then again for a further 30 minutes of extra time.

With the game locked at 0-0, it was time for the dreaded penalty shoot-out, and the Nigerian goalkeeper pulled off a crucial save to clinch a record ninth title for her country.

But make no mistake about it, it was a superb tournament for Banyana.

The fact that they have qualified for their first World Cup in France next year is a wonderful achievement.

The football they played at the Nations Cup was full of invention, skill and poise.

On top of that, they did not concede a single goal, and were the only unbeaten team at the tournament (games decided via shoot-outs are officially deemed draws).

Star striker Thembi Kgatlana was just one of the players who showed some brilliant touches, including a stunning run in the final that left three Nigerians rooted to the spot. She was rewarded by being named Player of the Tournament.

Even more important than the result is the fact that Banyana coach Desiree Ellis feels the tournament created more awareness for women’s football in Africa.

Ellis said: “The tournament has been very exciting for us as a nation, because since we landed, everywhere we went people showed us love and the fans have been amazing.”

Now Banyana’s focus can turn to the World Cup, and as their captain, Janine van Wyk, made clear on Saturday night, it is very important that matches against high-quality opponents are arranged ahead of the World Cup tournament to give Banyana ample opportunity to prepare.

Putting aside her disappointment at not lifting the trophy, Van Wyk described her team as “true warriors” who were left exhausted after every game because they gave their all.

We could not agree more, and so today we salute our brave Banyana.

Roll on, World Cup.