South Africa -- the home of Nelson Mandela, the Springboks and Nando's grilled chicken...and the next stop on our Better Know Your Olympic Enemies Tour, as the Canadian ladies prepare for their second game with the Banyana Banyana ("the girls" in the Nguni language)
The country was an international pariah until about 20 years ago due to apartheid. And even with the change in government, the country is still better known for its rugby players and its cricketers, rather than for its soccer (D.C. United supporters likely will know about Doctor Khumalo, but still...) -- a sport that really only came to the international forefront when the men's team, the Bafana Bafana, first qualified for the World Cup in 1998.
The Banyana haven't enjoyed as much luck, having never qualified for the Women's World Cup or the Olympics. They have been runners-up twice in their continental competition to the dominant Nigerians, but with a stroke of good fortune, they were able to avoid those same Super Falcons and also the Ghanians in qualifying, and now find themselves at the London Olympics for the first time, ever.
But that's where their luck ends: drawing the Japanese, the Canadians and the Swedes will almost guarantee them the wooden spoon in the group. Their preparation hasn't been all that much better -- having a rather rotten time at the 2012 Cyprus Cup (the same tournament that the Canadians they're facing finished second in) But hey, there's a first time for everything, given some of the troubles that female South African athletes have faced, especially LGBT ones.
The team is captained by forward Amanda Dlamini, but the star in front will likely be Nompumelelo Nyandeni, the only player on the named squad with overseas experience in Russia (where she rubs shoulders with the likes of Brazilian legend Cristiane) She was the only South African to score during an exhibition match, and scored a number of excellent goals in an Olympic qualification match against Ethiopia earlier this year, and she's got some moves.
In the back, the one to look for is Janine van Wyk. This
Brek Shea lookalike young phenom from Johannesburg is the core of the backline, and is said to have offers from various universities in the US offering her scholarships to play for them. van Wyk was originally not even on the team due to a groin injury -- but her return will bring a boost to the backline: she has an amazing amount of speed, and a powerful kick to match: she will likely serve as the midfield playmaker for the Banyana, and shutting her down will be key.
Other than these three names -- precious few pieces of information are available from Google and Youtube. But from this we can perhaps piece together some keys to the win for the Canadians: Given that the Banyana are on their first trip to the "big time", simply overawing them could be the trick. However, with Nyandeni up front and van Wyk at the back -- the Canadians can't afford to hold back.
Simply put, they cannot allow Nyandeni to break through like she did against the Ethiopians. Canada has to play like they are the seventh ranked team in the world against the 61st, and has to stamp their authority while doing so. Once the game is under control, then it will be time to run up the score -- given the fact that a loss to Sweden combined with the loss to Japan that's already in the books will relegate the Canadians to third, and goal difference may well come into play to clinch one of the 2 3rd place finisher spots.
As always, a loss or a draw against a minnow will be disastrous either way. So put on your scoring boots Canada -- time to make this game count, because you need it to.