Banyana make history and advance at World Cup

Thembi Kgatlana scored an injury-time winner as South Africa booked a historic place in the knockout rounds of the Women’s World Cup with a 3-2 victory over Italy in their final Group G clash in Wellington on Wednesday.

The victory sees Banyana finish as runners-up in the pool and will now face Netherlands in the next stage, but for coach Des Ellis it is an incredible moment of history for the sport in the country.

For the third match in a row it was a gallant effort from a South African side that has been vastly improved on the global stage compared to their maiden World Cup appearance four years ago, and this time they completed the job.

Arianna Caruso put Italy ahead from the penalty-spot early on, before Benedetta Orsi scored an own goal that levelled things up for Banyana just past the half-hour mark.

Hildah Magaia then turned the game on its head to put South Africa ahead, but they could not hold on as Caruso turned the ball home from a corner.

It looked as though it would be more heartache for South Africa, but Kgatlana won the day as she turned the ball home from close-range after excellent work from Magaia.

Italy had an early penalty when Karabo Dhlamini’s poor tackle on Chiara Beccari gifted the European side the opportunity from 12 yards. Arianna Caruso had no trouble with the penalty, slotting it in the bottom corner. 

Banyana almost drew level when the ball fell to Robyn Moodaly on the edge of the box and her first time shot had the beating of Italy goalkeeper Francesca Durante, but not the post as it cannoned back off the woodwork. It would have been a superb goal from a player with great technique.

But Banyana were level with a huge slice of luck as Italy defender Orsi put the ball into her own net from outside of the box. Banyana had been pressing hard for the equaliser and when Orsi collected the ball under some pressure from Thembi Kgatlana, she played a strong ball back towards her own goal.

Durante was not expecting it and went to clear with her feet but could not get there quick enough and the ball was in the back of the net.

Almost immediately, Italy went close as it was their turn to hit the post. A header came back off the woodwork, leading to goal-mouth scramble during which Banyana just about managed to clear.

There was a long check for a handball by Dhlamini in the aftermath, but it was not given in the end. It would have been devastating for her to concede two spot-kicks in the game.

Banyana goalkeeper Kaylin Swart has been criticised this tournament but came up with a big moment when Italy striker Valentina Giacinti was clean through on goal. Swart made herself big to block the shot in the one-on-one situation early in the second half.

Banyana took the lead midway through the second half with a superbly worked goal. Kgatlana ran at the Italian defence and with them back-peddling, slipped Magaia in on goal with a fantastic reverse pass. Magaia is hands down the best finisher in the Banyana squad and she showed that again as she blasted the ball past Durante.

Italy were level when Caruso turned the ball in from a corner, even if there was a long VAR check over whether she was offside.

Banyana were headed out at that stage, but they came up with the winning moment as again Magaia was slipped in behind the Italy defence, and this time she passed rather than shot, allowing Kgatlana to make history.