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Ledwaba talks down Banyana's World Cup chances

SA Football Association (Safa) vice-president Ria Ledwaba says Banyana Banyana should not be harshly judged if they fail to progress beyond the group stages of this year's Fifa Women’s World Cup.

“Let’s be realistic‚ we are going to our first World Cup and you are already putting conditions‚”  Ledwaba told reporters at Safa House after confirming that the National Women’s League would start in August - after the World Cup.

Banyana Banyana were drawn in Group B for the tournament in France (7 June – 7 July) alongside two-time champions Germany, 1999 runners-up China and Spain.

“Let the girls go there and enjoy themselves because they have already done the Olympics where they showed us that they can participate.

"We want them to go out there and enjoy themselves‚ participate and show that South Africa is one of the countries that they must look out for at the next World Cup,” Ledwaba said.

As it happens, all three of South Africa’s World Cup opponents are ranked within the world’s top 15 nations while Desiree Ellis’ charges find themselves down at 48.

“Chances are we can go to the second round. I don’t see that not happening because of the quality of players that we have‚ but if we don’t qualify it will not be the end of the world.

"The girls have done us proud so far by taking us to the Africa Cup of Nations and we are excited and proud of them.”

Banyana Banyana recently took part in the Cyprus Cup where they lost all their matches and finished in 10th position. Ledwaba, though, told football lovers to not read too much into those disappointing results.

“You must understand that the teams that were there at the Cyprus tournament are world class‚" she said.

"If you compare our performances then and now [between the Africa Cup of Nations and Cyprus Cup]‚ you can see that there are improvements.

"You know that our group at the World Cup is the strongest with countries like Germany and Spain and it is not going to be easy.

Ledwaba was full of praise for how the quality of players has  improved within the national set-up, which has seen the likes of Thembi Kgatlana, Refiloe Jane and Linda Motlhalo earn overseas moves.

"I am confident with the quality of players that we are taking there.

“Our players are experienced and eight of them started at the HPC academy [at the University of Pretoria].

"They have accumulated experience over the 15 years they have played in the national league and through the national teams.

Ledwaba was also adamant that Banyana Banyana’s confidence is still at a good level as they move into the final stage of World Cup preparation - which includes a high-profile friendly against top-ranked USA in May.

"There are prospects of them going there and doing well because preparations have been done by winning the Cosafa Cup where they beat a strong team like Cameroon in the final.

"We also beat Nigeria at the recent Cup of Nations and the results are there.”