The Netherlands, 2019 finalists and one of the favourites at the 2023 Fifa Women’s World Cup, will go into Sunday’s round of 16 tie against South Africa as heavy favourites at the Sydney Football Stadium in Australia (4am SA time kick-off).
The favourites tag comes about essentially because of the Netherlands’ world ranking of nine, as against South Africa, who slot in at No 54.
However, this version of the Women’s World Cup has shown that world rankings have not been a reliable pointer to outcomes, and Banyana Banyana have been one of the teams that have surprised by punching above their weight.
In their last two outings, South Africa held Argentina (28th) to a 2-2 draw, and then defeated Italy (16th) 3-2.
They lost 2-1 to Sweden (third), but the result could have been different after Banyana scored first – Sweden snatched the winner in added injury time.
Banyana coach Desiree Ellis feels she has some knowledge of their Dutch opponents after leaning on Vera Pauw, a former Netherlands coach who later also took charge of South Africa (2014-2016).
“We’ve played the Netherlands a few times, even last year before we went to Wafcon (Women’s Africa Cup of Nations),” said Ellis.
“They are a fantastic side. Through coach Vera, who was our coach before, we know a lot about the Netherlands as well.
“It’s going to be a very tough match. They have played really well on their side, but now it’s a knockout match.
“It is all to play for. There’s no second chance … there’s no tomorrow. It’s on the day.”
Apart from goalkeeper Kaylin Swart, South Africa will rely heavily on impact players like Thembi Kgatlana, Hildah Magaia, Linda Motlhalo and Jermaine Seoposenwe to take the fight to the Netherlands.
SA Football Association president Danny Jordaan, who is in Sydney, told the Safa website that he visited the Banyana team on Friday.
“I went to see Banyana Banyana today, and I spoke to Refiloe Jane and Thembi Kgatlana. The team is in high spirits, and ready to fight against the Netherlands on Sunday,” he said.
“I did send messages of congratulations to Nigeria and Morocco after they reached the round of 16. We are happy to see the progress of women’s football on the continent.
“South Africa is regarded as one of the leading federations in the advancement of women’s football. In a landmark report, CAF has shown that South Africa has the highest number of registered women footballers.
“We have the highest number of women coaches, and we are one of the few federations where all of our women’s teams are coached by women coaches.”
The Netherlands have scored nine goals in three matches and outscored their opponents 9-1 at the 2023 showpiece.
Their lethal weapon is Jill Roord, who plies her trade for Manchester City. The attacking midfielder has scored in every one of the three group matches.
The Oranje Lionesses, as the Netherlands national team are nicknamed, would have noted that Banyana were quite capable of bossing higher-ranked opponents.
Dutch coach Andries Jonker watched Banyana’s match against Italy, and remarked how he admired the South Africans’ team spirit and fighting qualities.
“Physically, I thought they were very good,” said Jonker, a former Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach.
“They kept going for 90 minutes. The striker (Thembi Kgatlana) reminded me a bit of Nelli Cooman (a former Dutch sprint champion).
“But it was a top-class fight, as we have seen in so many of the matches in this tournament. It was beautiful women’s football.
“We know little about South African football, although the Oranje Lionesses played against them in April last year, winning 5-1. But it is hard to compare because we played with a completely different team.”
Jonker said he won’t make the mistake of underestimating their opponents.
“Smaller countries are also fit at this World Cup. You rarely see that they cannot keep up physically.”