The London 2012 Olympic Football draw is over and the dust has settled. South Africa and Cameroon now await their fate come kick off ,July 25th.Will the odds favor Africa ?
Well, my candid answer will be NO ! With both Africa's representatives being rookies at this competition,there seems to be no need for unnecessary piling up of pressure here but for the sake of optimism let's give our African reps the benefit of the doubt as they battle against some of the elite nations in women's soccer.
South Africa(65th) finds themselves in Group F with world champions,JAPAN(ranked 4th in the world),Canada(9th) and Sweden(5th) whereas Cameroon(52nd) on the other hand has for company Brazil(3rd),New Zealand(24th) and the host nation,Great Britain(6th) in Group E.
For the past few months,South Africa in particular has been preparing frantically towards the Olympics both at home and abroad by participating in tournaments locally and internationally.The players are bubbling with confidence and the handlers are optimistic.The South African FA has been supportive through out their campaign to qualify for the Olypmpics and have been equally supportive after they made history in booking their tickets as first time Olympians but the baptism of fire will be handed to them when they suit up to compete against the Nadeshiko of Japan,Sweden and Canada.
South Africa has a team consisting of players who have been together as a unit for quite a long time.They form a band of sisters who know eachother and are ready to support eachother.Looking back at the 2010 AWC,South Africa's performance though lacklustre, they showed a lot of promise in their performance enroute to the Olympics.The litmus test will be how they measure up against the best in the world.It is time for the likes of Noko Matlou,Janine Van Wyck,Amanda,Portia Modise and Amanda Dhlamini to prove their worth as the Olympic spot light falls on them.
In the attacking department,South Africa has experienced players to spear head their attack in the persons of Amanda Dhlamini,Portia Modise and Noko Matlou but the onus falls on one time best player on the continent of Africa,Noko Matlou to carry her team through.With the timely recall of Portia Modise a 2005 FIFA best player nominee back into the fold,the Banyana Banyana have on their side a player capable of springing a surprise or two.
What South Africa lacks however is a compact midfield. Although they have Nompumelelo Nyandeni to marshall the midfield,Coach Joseph Mhkonza has his work cut out for him.How he manages to organize his midfield is yet to be seen, however, he needs a technicallly and tactically astute midfield to be the backbone of Matlou and Modise to sail through.
In defense,Janine Van Wyck stands out as the best.Though her hard work is never in doubt,she needs a supporting cast of equally disciplined defenders to contain the firepower to be unleashed by her opponents.To cope with the staggering pace of Japan's attacking machinery and the wits of Homrare Sawa for instance,the back four of the South African defense need to be alert,quick and resolute so as to give goalkeeper Thoko Mndaweni the much needed coverage.A water tight and focused defense is the key !
As debutants,Banyana Banyana will be desperate to justify their place among the best in the world of women's soccer but will not pose any significant risk to the other three nations in their group although they can take a page out of Nigeria's book at the 2011 FIFA women's World Cup by beating Canada. Hopefully coach Mhkonza will instill in his players a sense of belief,unity and courage as they face the Goliaths.
The world champions,Japan play a basic 4-4-2 formation with captain Sawa and Sakaguchi embedded in central midfield flanked by Miyama and Ohno. This midfield quartet has immense fire power and have amazing flair as demonstrated in Germany at the 2011 FIFA women's world cup.They combine and connect effectively with the forwards and work extremely hard even in defence.They are quick to win the ball once lost and are equally good scorers.The Japanese have loads of endurance as they do not wear out easily.The South Africans will have a difficult time containing the Japanese midfield considering the excellent individual technical brilliance of Sawa and Sakaguchi and the pace on the wings of the Japanese midfield.
If South Africa can muster the courage to out number the Japanese in midfield and can match the flying wingers in pace,win all 50-50 balls, maintain focus,complete their passes and not be wasteful in front of goal,Banyana Banyana stands a chance of causing an unlikely upset.Getting past 'keeper Ayumi Kaihori will not be an easy task however like ADIDAS' slogan puts it "IMPOSSIBLE IS NOTHING"
The Swedes are a well oiled tactical machine.Also playing 4-4-2 but a little defensive minded, unlike the Japanese who attack more often than not,Sweden brings a different dynamic to the table with players like Sara Thuneboro who can surge forward from defense into attack.In captain Schelin,Sweden has an intelligent and dangerous forward, a great passer of the ball with blistering pace, who will ask a lot of questions from the South African defense.Sweden has a penchant for wearing their opponents out, then striking when the opponent is literally gasping for breath.That is when Therese Sjoran shows up with her pinpoint accurate passes to send her attackers in a goal frenzy.
South Africa will have to maintain their focus and draw from the well of stamina to douse the flames of the Swedes.Again,the mental toughness and resilience of the South Africans will be tested.
Canada plays a 4-3-3 formation with captain Christine Sinclair leading the attack.Sinclair is one tough,hardworking,intelligent and fearless forward who covers every blade of grass on the field of play.Her partnership upfront with Melissa Tancredi hasn't been all rosy but they still find a way to harass opposing defenders with the pace and movement on and off the ball.In goal,Canada's Karina LeBlanc has a lot of experience but her defenders haven't been up and doing when called upon to do so as evidenced against Nigeria at the 2011 women's world cup.
Though a talented side,Canada hasn't shown their full potential.They have been inconsistent over the years and will want to show the world what they are made up off against South Africa at the Olympics.
South Africa will have to glean from Nigeria's experience as they face the Canadians.The Banyana Banyana need to play with purpose and as a united front.Midfield dominance by South Africa and the pace of Matlou especially will be called upon to see them through. However,there is the need for the South Africans to defend en bloc and vice versa.
With the aerial superiority of the Canadians,South Africa must deal with all set pieces leaving no room for error.
Adapting to the 4-4-1-1 formation is what i perceive as the likely system for the South Africans even though coach Mhkonza has the final say.