JOHANNESBURG – Banyana Banyana showed great character to twice come from behind and hold Finland to a draw in the opening match of the Cyprus Cup.
As a build up to their maiden World Cup appearance in France later this year, the result will give Desiree Ellis’s team confidence.
In a match that saw play stopped for a while due to a downpour, Banyana displayed resolute defending to hold off the Fins, particularly in the first half.
They cracked early in the second half and allowed Julliet Kemppi the opener, but their fightback to level through Leandra Smeda’s spotkick after Jermaine Seoposenwe was brought down in the box was laudable.
That they allowed their opponents to restore their lead shortly after equalising would have left Ellis lamenting the lack of discipline and composure by her charges. Adelina Engman scored Finland’s second goal.
But this Banyana team regrouped, took the game to their adversaries and got rewarded with the equaliser scored by substitute Thembi Kgatlana who had come on before the hour mark in the place of Karabo Dhlamini.
Yesterday’s match marked a milestone for Refiloe Jane as she earned her 100th cap. That she joined the Banyana Century Club on the day marking 100 days before the Fifa Women’s World Cup kicks off in France made the day all the more special.
Skipper Janine van Wyk allowed Jane to captain the team, and while they had to chase the game, it was a match the midfielder who plies her trade in the Australian League will cherish.
After all, it was in the Cyprus Cup in 2012 that a young Jane made her Banyana debut against Northern Ireland, having been spotted by former national team coach Joseph Mkhonza in Pimville, Soweto playing for a boys side named Thebe Stars.
Back then Jane would not have known she would go on to play a 100 matches for her country, let alone make the kind of impact she did.
But such are the rewards for a player who works hard at honing her gift while being disciplined that Jane is among the players Ellis will be pinning her hopes on for a great showing at Banyana’s maiden World Cup appearance later this year.
It was largely through her exploits that the national team earned the ticket to the global showpiece to be hosted by France, Jane captaining Banyana to Cosafa Cup glory in Van Wyk’s absence.
That success, in which they beat guests Cameroon, saw the squad go to the African Nations Cup in Ghana with great confidence. Jane had just made a big move to the Australian League with Rhoda Mulaudzi and had to force her club to let her participate in the continental showpiece.
For a player who got help from a stranger to make the trip to Perth for her trials while Safa folded their hands, Jane’s choice of country over club for a tournament that did not fall on Fifa dates increased her national heroine status.
And in Ghana she shone bright as her goals helped Banyana reach the final.
But club duty called and she was forced to miss the final against Nigeria which Banyana lost.
In Cyprus yesterday as she earned her 100th cap, Jane was her usual confident self as she strove to boss the midfield and make things happen for her side.
In Finland though, Banyana met a polished opponent who pressed them hard and did most of the attacking.
But in the end, a 2-2 draw was a good result and one that Banyana’s latest centurion would have been happy with.
Banyana Banyana plays Korea DPR tomorrow.