South Africa’s senior women’s soccer team’s hopes of the ‘easiest passage’ to the 2008 Olympics have been boosted, after Ethiopia failed to arrive in South Africa, and Nigeria lost to 1-0 Ghana on Sunday afternoon.
Ironically, the goal which gave Ghana the victory came from Nigeria’s Lilian Cole, who thumped it into her own net in a desperate attempt to clear a dangerous ball from her box in the match’s first half.
The African team finishing at the top of the third-round tournament involving South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana and Ethiopia is guaranteed automatic entry to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, while the second-placed team can gain entry via a play-off against South American powerhouse, Brazil.
Ethiopia’s withdrawal might be construed as a forfeited match. “Yeah,” laughs South Africa Team Manager Fran Hilton-Smith, “Quite amazing, it bodes very well for us, because it opens up the whole table again.”
“[Ethiopia] notified us in the middle of our camp that they were withdrawing both their men’s and their women’s teams from their Olympic qualifications, because it was their birthday on the weekend.
“They had a lot of functions planned,” continued Hilton-Smith, “Which I find totally ridiculous. I don’t know why they didn’t contact FIFA asking that the date be rescheduled, so they’re out.
“I’m awaiting official correspondence from FIFA as to what the situation is regarding this. [What] we want to know is what’s going to happen, because they played Ghana and lost 3-1, so we need to know what’s going to happen with that game, regarding goals (averages).”
In the tournament’s first round, South Africa suffered a humiliating 5-0 loss to Nigeria in Abuja, but SA’s recent prospects against Ghana are good, most recently with a 2-0 win against the Ghanaians in the All Africa Games in Algeria, but the 1-0 loss to the Black Queens in the 2006 African Women’s Championships will still rankle the team.
Following Ghana’s upset win against Nigeria’s Super Falcons at the refurbished El Wak Stadium in Accra on Sunday, the Black Queens now sit with a maximum six points after two matches, while Nigeria (and presumably South Africa) each share three points after a win and a loss each, with Ethiopia at the bottom on nil points.
Banyana Banyana face the resurgent Ghana in Pretoria on the 25 August, and will need to beat the Black Queens to remain in contention for an Olympic berth.Banyana Banyana Round-Robin Olympic Qualifiers:
Sat 28 July: Banyana Banyana 0-5 Nigeria (Abuja)
Sat 11 Aug: Banyana Banyana vs Ethiopia (Pretoria) (Ethiopia forfeits match)
Sat 25 Aug: Banyana Banyana vs Ghana (Pretoria)
Break until December 2007, when Return Legs Commence