Banyana Banyana are just 90 minutes away from the 2012 London Olympics after a Noko Matlou hat-trick sunk Ethiopia by three goals to nil (3-0) in the Olympic Qualifier first leg fixture at the Orlando Stadium in Soweto. The match was played on Saturday, 27 August 2011.
The two sides will meet again in the return leg fixture in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on Sunday, 11 September 2011. This is a match in which the home team is expected to work on a specific game plan to counter the strong-running Matlou – the CAF Women’s Player of the Year 2009 and newly-crowned South African Sportswoman of the Year.
Banyana Banyana took the lead in the 6th minute when midfielder Nomathemba Ntsibande found herself in space on the edge of the Ethiopian penalty area before supplying Matlou, who fired home her 48th goal for the national team in her 60th appearance for her country.
Seven minutes later, Banyana Banyana vice captain Matlou latched on to a long ball played down the middle of the field and held off the attentions of the Ethiopian defenders to put the ball in the left hand side of the visitors’ goal-net.
The Ethiopians had the better of the second half and stretched the South African defence – missing the services of the suspended Janine van Wyk – on several occasions, but good goalkeeping by Thoko Mndaweni ensured a goal-less day for the North African side.
In injury time in the second half, Matlou completed the scoring when she took advantage of some poor Ethiopian defending, before slotting the ball home past Ethiopian substitute goalkeeper Dagmawet Mekonnen Bekele who came out to narrow the striker’s angle.
Matlou, who has changed clubs and provinces from Brazilians FC in the Sasol League Limpopo to Gauteng Sasol League University of Johannesburg, kissed the ground out of joy at the completion of the match, realising how close an air ticket to the 2012 London Olympics really is.
“The Ethiopians applied a lot of pressure on our team, particularly in the second half, and we are delighted to have completed the match with a three goal advantage without conceding a goal. But there is a lot of homework and hard training to be done before we travel to Ethiopia for the return leg.
“We have had a good luck at the opponents and know which areas to work on. One thing certain is that we need to get an early goal there to unsettle them as they can be very dangerous as we saw in the match,” said Banyana Banyana coach Joseph Mkhonza afterwards.
“It was a very competitive match because the Ethiopians were very quick and they did not allow us to break them down the middle,” agreed Banyana Banyana captain Amanda Dlamini.
“This led to us defending very deep in our half. But we are happy with the three goals we scored, we know now how close we are to London, but at the same time can’t lose focus as we have another match to play before we can confirm qualification.
“History is beckoning and the goals ease the pressure a little bit, and we just need to work even harder to maintain our lead and win the second leg,” concluded Dlamini.
But the Ethiopians were not discouraged, and believe they can comeback when they play in their backyard.
“We played very well but South Africa managed to score three goals because sometimes you need luck in this game,” said Ethiopia coach Abreham Teklehaymanot.
“We know where we went wrong and have some time to rectify those mistakes. Playing in Addis Ababa will be very different in that the weather will suit us well, we have the advantage of the high altitude, the crowd will be behind us and also we will have some of the players back in action who missed this match.
“Our weak defence and goalkeeping department let us down, but we will work on that. South Africa is a very good team but we will score the required four goals back home,” said Teklehaymanot.
Mkhonza’s record as Banyana Banyana coach has increased to 12 wins from 14 matches.