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Veteran Matlou out to ensure Banyana stays on course as her retirement looms

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The 38-year-old Noko Matlou expressed the importance of guiding the youthful exuberance of some of her counterparts in the team, while ensuring the future of Banyana remains intact as her retirement draws closer.

Banyana Banyana defender Noko Matlou. File Picture: safa.net

Smiso Msomi

The long-standing rivalry between Banyana Banyana and the Nigerian women’s team will once again take centre stage as the two nations bid to grab qualification for the 2024 Olympic Games.

The South African women’s team made the daunting trip to Nigeria to play the first of two legs to determine who jets off to Paris in July between the two continental powerhouses.

Banyana and the Super Falcons will kick off at 6pm SA time on Friday at the MKO Abiola National Stadium in Abuja.

A victory for the defending Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (Wafcon) champions will see them join either Zambia or Morocco as the two teams to represent Africa at the Paris Olympics.

Banyana coach Desiree Ellis named the strongest possible 23-player squad to get the job done over two legs, with a huge chunk of her group made up of players that lifted the Wafcon title in 2022.

The experienced Ellis elected to travel early to Nigeria to help the team acclimatise to the hotter weather conditions in Abuja as they are different from the conditions at home.

The 61-year-old mentor has also had to manage the late arrival of some of her overseas-based stars in Thembi Kgatlana, Hildah Magaia, Noxolo Cesane and Linda Motlhalo.

However, Banyana are expected to be favourites in this encounter, despite playing away, having not lost a match against the Super Falcons since 2016.

Banyana have also won three of the four encounters between the two nations in the last eight years in either friendly internationals or Wafcon competition.

One of Banyana’s longest-serving players, Noko Matlou, is expected to form part of the defensive unit in hostile conditions in Nigeria.

The 38-year-old defender expressed the importance of guiding the youthful exuberance of some of her counterparts in the team, while ensuring the future of Banyana remains intact as her retirement draws closer.

“It’s a very important game against Nigeria. It’s important we qualify for this one, because we missed out in the last Olympics in 2020,” she said.

She added: “It’s very important that we as experienced players help the younger players realise what this game means to us, and for them to learn and understand how hard it is to play against Nigeria, because we won’t be around forever.

“It’s also important that I qualify for this Olympics, because these are my last Olympics, so it would be a very special one for me.”

The Super Falcons of Nigeria are by no means slouches, possessing 20 overseas-based players in their squad for this game.

Nigeria also boast a terrifying home record, having won their last three on their patch and not conceding a single goal, while scoring 10, in that period.

The 11-time winners of the Wafcon also have Asisat Oshoala back in their ranks, and the 2023 Ballon d’Or nominee is eager to make her mark once more in the national team.

South Africa, though, have their own superstars in the shape of captain Refiloe Jane, Kgatlana, Jermaine Seoposenwe and Magaia, who have shown that they can handle the pressure at the highest level during last year’s Fifa World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

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