The national women’s soccer team Banyana Banyana gathers today for a week-long camp at Eastgate Garden Court, in preparations for their next 2008 Olympic qualifier, against Zimbabwe in Pretoria on Sunday.
It’s going to be a busy few months for the national women’s team, as they also go in search of continental pride at the All Africa Games, in Algeria during July.
The team’s high performance manager Fran Hilton-Smith says she wants to see all-out effort from the team this winter,
“We simply have to qualify for the Olympics,” said Hilton-Smith. “(The) All Africa Games is in the middle of that, but the priority is the Olympics.”
Hilton-Smith says Banyana Banyana is on par with the rest of Africa, and the team is probably better than their number 3 continental ranking.
“But when you compare them to international opposition, it’s a different ball game. Internationally, they are on a different level and we are hoping to one day get there.
“That’s why we need to qualify for the Olympics: To get some exposure, but it’s only by playing internationals that you get better and stronger.”
In the next few months Banyana Banyana faces arch rivals Nigeria twice, at the All Africa Games, and in an Olympic qualifier.
“I think we can give them a go. Of course, they are always going to be a step ahead, because the bulk of their players play the overseas style.
“It’s difficult to close that gap when you are not playing enough, and not playing enough high-level matches,” says Hilton Smith.
For now though, Hilton-Smith and her technical team are focusing on getting Banyana Banyana ready for Sunday’s crucial second round Olympic qualifier against Zimbabwe, at the Caledonian Stadium starting at 3:15pm.
In the first round of Olympic qualifiers, Banyana Banyana avoided an untimely exit, overcoming mounted odds to secure a 4-2 (5-4 aggregate) victory over Equatorial Guinea.