African champions, Sotuth Africa kicked off its campaign at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup with a 2-1 loss to Scandinavian side, Sweden on Sunday.
Ranked third in the world and considered dark horses ahead of this tournament, Sweden were looking to build on several recent near misses as they began their campaign in Wellington. Peter Gerhardsson’s team has finished third at two of the last three World Cups, claimed silver at the last two Olympic Games, and made the semi-finals at Euro 2022. They are strong favourites to progress from Group G.
South Africa are playing at just their second Women’s World Cup, having lost all three group-stage games on their first appearance in 2019.
However, Banyana Banyana qualified for this tournament by winning their first Africa Cup of Nations title last year, and coach Desiree Ellis hoped that experience would help them cause some shocks in Group G.
Sweden was stunned in the 48th minute as Hilda Magaia put South Africa ahead. Thembi Kgatlana showed her pace once again to break in behind, before cutting in to shoot from the left side of the box. Her deflected effort was turned away by Musovic, but Magaia was on hand to bundle it home from close range.
In the 65th minute, Sweden leveled things up at 1-1. Just as Gerhardsson appeared to be readying changes, Frodidolina Rolfo leveled. Kaneryd’s cross was just too high for Blackstenius, but Ramalepe touched the ball onto Rolfo at the far post and it nestled in the bottom-right corner. It was harsh on South Africa, but Sweden are back on level terms.
In the 90th minute, Kosovare Asllani lifted a corner in from the left, with Kaylin Swart rooted to her line and Amanda Ilestedt attacking the ball unmarked. The Sweden defender squeezed her header beyond a host of players on the line, and South Africa’s hearts were broken late on.
Sweden made a winning start at the World Cup, but only just! South Africa held firm throughout the first half and looked set for a famous win when Magaia bundled home the opener three minutes after the restart. However, a slightly fortuitous equaliser from Rolfo put South Africa on the back foot, and their resilience was broken when Ilestedt headed home in the 90th minute! An absorbing contest sees a brave South African display go unrewarded.
Sweden go top of Group G ahead of Italy facing Argentina on Monday, but they will have to improve if they are to have any chance of bettering 2019’s third-place finish. South Africa were outstanding in defence and threatened on the break for long periods, and they will be hopeful of causing problems for Italy and Argentina.