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Banyana have to bring their A-game

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“I feel that we are going to need someone with experience to replace ‘Vivo’ because it’s a crucial game for us.”

South Africas Lebohang Ramalepe tussles with Spains Mariona Caldentey during their opening match of the Womens Football World Cup. Picture: Reuters Bernadette Szabo

Wary of going into a crucial encounter without influential left-back Nothando Vilakazi, Lebohang Ramalepe has urged her teammates to bring their A-game when Banyana Banyana face China in their second match of the Fifa Women’s World Cup in France tomorrow night.

South Africa had an opening round match to forget in their maiden appearance in the global showpiece losing 3-1 to Spain at Stade Oceane, despite putting in a fine performance.

Thembi Kgatlana opened the scoring for Banyana, while two penalties conceded by Janine van Wyk and Vilakazi gave La Roja a goal advantage, before Lucia Garcia rounded off her team’s scoring.

Having been cautioned with a yellow card earlier in the game, Vilakazi received her marching orders after a reckless tackle inside the box – thanks to a review decision by the controversial Video Assistant Referee.

“It’s going to be difficult because she’s one of our best left-backs at the moment,” Ramalepe said.

“But I believe that coach (Desiree Ellis) has a back-up because we have so many players that can play so many positions.

“I feel that we are going to need someone with experience to replace ‘Vivo’ because it’s a crucial game for us.”

Vilakazi has already made a name for herself at both club and national level. In domestic football, the 30-year-old left-footer played for Moroka Swallows FC, before surfacing at Palace Super Falcons.

However, her stride didn’t go unnoticed by overseas scouts as she recently tied the knot with Gintra Universitetas, a Lithuanian women’s football club from iauliai, that has been a regular in the Uefa Women’s Champions League for the last nine years.

Vilakazi’s international career is as colourful as her domestic one. She made her breakthrough in the Banyana set-up in 2007, playing in numerous Africa Women’s Cup of Nations tournaments.

She was also key in inspiring her team to back-to-back Olympic Games in 2012 and 2016. It is for these reasons that Ramalepe is adamant that whoever replaces Vilakazi, who’s already sitting on over 100 caps for the national team, should be comfortable in the role when she joins the mix.

“In each and every game, we are used to playing with ‘Vivo’ and the coach has to bring an experienced player,” Ramalepe said.

“Before, coach Ellis had put in Leandra Smeda (another flexible player who plies her trade in Sweden) and she did her best in that position.

“I believe that we have to set our minds straight when it comes to that game (against China). I believe even if Vilakazi is absent, it doesn’t mean the team can’t play. It’s a matter of us staying focused and making sure that we stay tight.

“Whoever plays in the position has to be protected and not (be) exposed.”

The loss to Spain in Le Havre has left the South Africans bottom of Group B, and Ellis’s troops face a Chinese team that’s also licking their wounds after losing 1-0 in their opener against Germany.

With only the two teams pointless in their group, Ramalepe is adamant a win against the Asians will pull them closer to the last 16 knockout phase.

“We are disappointed but I believe that football is football,” she said.

“There are two matches to go and it’s a matter of us believing. We’re going to go all out there. I believe that no one wants to go home early and if we are going to collect maximum points on Thursday (tomorrow), then I think we can make the knockout stage.”

Banyana will play China at Parc des Princes Stadium in Paris tomorrow (9pm kick-off, SA time).