Banyana Banyana’s quest for a spot in the World Cup to be held in France next year has received a boost before the first kick of a football in the Africa Women Cup of Nations (Awcon), which serves as a qualifier for the global showpiece.
South African Football Association [Safa] vice-president Ria Ledwaba and Mayor of Nelson Mandela Bay Mongameli Bobani revealed that an announcement to name Port Elizabeth as the host city of the tournament is imminent.
Ghana is scheduled to host the tournament from 17 November to 1 December. But the Confederation of African Football [CAF] isn’t convinced the country will be ready by then, and is set to strip Ghana of its hosting rights at the confederation’s congress in Egypt on 30 September. The matter was discussed in Cairo on Wednesday in a meeting of the organising committee of women’s football.
Ironically, at the same congress, Safa president Danny Jordaan is set to run for a seat on the Fifa council that was left vacant by the resignation of former Ghana Football Association president Kwesi Nyantakyi amid allegations of corruption following an exposé by investigative journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas.
South Africa last hosted the Awcon in 2010, with Banyana finishing third. A repeat of that run would book them a place at the World Cup, as the top three teams from the Awcon will represent the continent.
Importance of World Cup qualification
“There’s nothing better than qualifying for the World Cup,” said Ledwaba at Isaac Wolfson Stadium in KwaZakhele, near Port Elizabeth. “We cannot ask for anything less than a top three finish from the team. [Banyana coach] Desiree [Ellis] knows that’s the mandate. We have spoken to her and we are going to give her all the support in the preparations so that when we start playing in the tournament, we know that we will be able to qualify for the [World Cup].”
Ledwaba continued: “There might be an opportunity for us to host it. The president of CAF [Ahmad Ahmad] was here last week to talk to our president [Jordaan] to please assist CAF by hosting because we have the facilities. I just got excited because I was speaking with the powers of this province and they think that it can come here. It’s important that we host it because … I can guarantee you that with this crowd, there is no way that we can’t go to France.”
Port Elizabeth is currently hosting the Council of Southern Africa Football Associations [Cosafa] Women’s Championships, which kicked off on Wednesday. This gives the city an opportunity to show it can host the Awcon, which is larger and more prestigious than the regional competition for teams from Southern Africa.
“We want it [the Awcon] to come to the Nelson Mandela Bay metro,” said Bobani. “In fact, as the city that’s moving, bring all the major tournaments here. Bring the World Cup, the Afcon [Africa Cup of Nations]. We are ready as a city to host it. We have hosted many big events successfully. We are expecting to make a big announcement concerning what will be happening in November and December. It’s coming! It’s coming! I can assure you that it’s coming.”
Banyana are not only looking to retain the Cosafa crown they won in Zimbabwe last year, but are also using the tournament as preparation for the Awcon. In the previous edition of the competition in Cameroon, Ellis was not able to lead the senior women’s national team to a top three finish. But she is confident they will perform better in front of a home crowd.
“You saw the fans out there in our opening match of the Cosafa Women’s Championship against Madagascar,” said Ellis. “We don’t often play at home, and the fans were magnificent. They were the 12th player. They really pulled us through … The last time the Awcon was here was quite a while ago. It would really be fantastic to host it not just for the fans, but the players as well … The players need to raise their hands because any player would love to play in a major tournament at home … We saw in Cameroon how their fans pulled them through.”