Cape Town – COSAFA Women’s Championship title-holders Banyana Banyana ground out a 3-1 win over Mozambique, in their final Group A match at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, in Gqeberha, on Monday afternoon after leading 1-0 at halftime.
This outcome gave Banyana Banyana the green light to Thursday's semi-finals and a chance to stake a claim for a fifth consecutive title in the regional championship.
After Banyana Banyana’s unexpected stalemate against the ultra-defensive Angolan side last Friday, the pressure was on to clinch a semi-final berth with a victory against Mozambique, and they made heavy weather of it in the first half.
Banyana Banyana managed to take play into the opposition goalmouth twice in the opening three minutes. At this rate, they threatened an avalanche of goals, but it did not materialise.
Their ineffectiveness in front of opposition goals was highlighted as early as the fourth minute when Noxolo Cesane missed a sitter, and her tame shot was turned away for a corner.
Soon afterwards, there were scoring efforts from Gabriela Salgado and Robyn Moodaly, but the shaky Mozambique defence remained intact after powderpuff attempts. For about 30 minutes, the Mozambique goalkeeper Eva Costa lived a charmed life as Banyana Banyana's efforts in the striking zone made this passage of time look like a training session.
It was left to Sibulele Holweni to open the scoring after a fine solo effort out wide on the left flank. She turned the opposition defence inside out with a deft dribble before her slide-rule short whistled past Costa in the 23rd minute (1-0)
Holweni should have been on the scoresheet again 15 minutes later, but she hoofed her scoring attempt over the crossbar from point-blank range after Mozambique cleared poorly from a corner.
A feature of the first-half play was the number of fouls committed by the teams, and Eswatini referee Letticia Viana, a member CAF Elite Women Referees panel, had her hands full. Banyana Banyana committed the most fouls, and they led the 21- 18 count after 40 minutes in the first half.
When second-half play resumed, Salgado pounced a stray ball after shoddy defence by Mozambique. She had a clear run on goal from the edge of the penalty, but her shot was well wide after Costa came well off her line to challenge.
Salgado and Mamello Makhabane had free kicks in identical positions just outside the Mozambique goalmouth, but Bayana Banyana set-piece efforts were woefully weak.
As was the case in the first half, Mozambique relied on occasional counter-attacks to keep their challenge alive and just past the hour mark, they staged one with telling effect. Mozambique's Lucia Jose managed to shake off her marker as she set off down the lef,t and her goalmouth cross was expertly met with a scoring header from captain Cina Manuel (1-1).
Mozambique's joy was short-lived as Banyana Banyana reclaimed the lead two minutes later through substitute Melinda Kgadiete rifled the ball into the roof of the net. Mozambique had failed to clear a Mamello Makhabane free-kick into the penalty area, and the unmarked Kgadiete showed a deft touch by gaining control of the high bouncing ball before going in for the kill.
In the 76th minute, a similar scene unfolded in the Mozambique goalmouth, and this time Holweni stabbed the ball into the net after it ricocheted off the upright (3-1).