Banyana Banyana have their eye set on 2024 Paris Olympic Games

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Banyana Banyana defender Lebohang Ramalepe says the 2024 Paris Olympic Games will be the last opportunity for most senior players to make an Olympic Games appearance because some of them will not be around in four years.

South Africa will face bitter rivals Nigeria in a two-legged 2024 Olympic Games qualifier. The first leg encounter will be played in Abuja on Friday.

The winner of the two-legged affair will be one of the two countries to represent Africa in Paris later this year.

Banyana Banyana are settling in after landing in Abuja on Sunday for their crunch game against the Super Falcons of Nigeria. The two nations will clash in the first leg on Friday, and Banyana Banyana are expecting a positive result away from home before the second leg at Pretoria’s Loftus Versfeld Stadium next Tuesday.

This will be the fourth and final round of qualifiers and coach Desiree Ellis has announced a strong 24-member squad for the encounter.

Ramalepe says they will go into the match with a lot of confidence after winning the last match between the two countries in the group stage of the 2022 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations in Morocco.

“This game is important because some of us, in the next four years, we are not going to be there; some of the senior players. So, it’s a matter of them getting the experience of going to the Olympics. So, they know how important this game is. It’s a do-or-die. When we win it, we go to the Olympics; when we don’t win it, we just have to go home. But remember, us, the senior players, if we don’t win it we are not going to make it for the next Olympics. So, them at least they still have a chance. They need to learn from this upcoming game,” says Ramalepe.

Banyana Banyana have won all four previous games between the two nations. But Ramalepe says previous results mean nothing.

“It has to be a different ball game because remember those games are in the past now. It’s a new challenge for both of us, of which both teams, we know how important this is. If we look at what happened in the past, we are going to lose ourselves, but for now, we just have to make sure that we stay focused and make sure this coming game we approach it differently.”

Banyana Banyana midfielder Nomvula Kgoale says they left early for West Africa to ensure that they adjust to the playing conditions in Nigeria.

“Back at home the air is much thinner. Over here it’s much heavier, but personally, I have played in the United States for almost six years and now, I know how it feels to play in this kind of weather. You almost feel that you are breathing heat. It’s heavier. The grass is also heavier, but I’m sure that in two days’ time we would have adjusted and then we will be ready to go,” she says.

But Kgoale admits that Nigeria always pose a real challenge.

“It’s extremely important to be mentally tough. We know that Nigeria is so tough. They have won Wafcon so many times; they have done so well at the World Cup as much as we have done so well. So, we know that (the) last time (we played them) we beat them. So, they will also be looking for revenge, but this is going to be a very tough game here, away, and even at home. So, it’s going to be a tough one. But I’m 100% sure we are ready mentally, physically, emotionally. We are ready to go,”

Fifty-three CAF members were eligible to enter qualifying but only 25 member countries entered the draw in May last year.

Seven countries, including South Africa and Nigeria, were awarded a bye in the first round of qualifying based on their results in the 2022 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations.

Morocco and Zambia will battle it out for the second Olympic Games spot available for the African continent.

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