Banyana Ba Style's Flame Flickers On:  

Author: N.J HoveIn the world of soccer, South Africa's women's teams have been carving out a place of honor, setting the stage for a new generation of female athletes to shine. The journey begins this year with Banyana Banyana, who etched their names in history at the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup, showcasing unwavering grit and determination. Banyana Ba Style have taken over from where Banyana Banyana left off by clinching the COSAFA Cup and earning qualification to the 2023 CAF Women's Champions League scheduled for November in Côte d'IvoireIn the wake of Banyana Banyana's historic journey to the round of 16 in the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup, the spotlight on women's soccer in South Africa has never been brighter. Today, the spotlight returns to illuminate the path ahead, with the indomitable Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies at its centre. They stand not only as champions but as conquerors, having clinched the COSAFA Cup with breath-taking performances. This victory, earned with sheer skill and unwavering resolve, has not only filled the hearts of a nation with pride but also secured their place in the prestigious CAF Women's Champions League as the sole representatives of the region, is special.
The journey of Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies in the COSAFA CAF qualifiers, has been nothing short of spectacular, marked by outstanding performances and remarkable achievements. It all began with a resounding 8-0 victory over Olympic de Moroni, setting the tone for their campaign. Refilwe Tholakele shone brightly in that game, earning the well-deserved title of Player of the Match.
The team's relentless pursuit of excellence continued in the following matches, as they dispatched Young Buffaloes with four unanswered goals. Lelona Daweti stole the show with a hat-trick, leaving no doubt that Sundowns meant business. Their dominance extended to Costa de Sol of Mozambique, who were not discriminated upon by being handed a 4-0 drubbing too, with Oratile Mokwena being named Player of the Match.

In the semi-finals, Green Buffaloes emerged as the only team to breach Sundowns' defences, but even that couldn't halt their march to the final. It was a match that held personal significance for many, as Coach Koketso Tshabalala, the goalkeeper coach revealed, "the match that stood out was the Green Buffaloes game. It brought back memories of our painful loss to them last year, where we missed numerous chances and ultimately lost in a penalty shootout. Despite the painful memories, Sundowns Ladies showcased resilience and determination, with Chuene Morifi, a standout player throughout the tournament, once again displaying her prowess and earning the well-deserved title of Player of the Match.”
In the final showdown against Double Action Ladies, Sundowns once again delivered a masterclass, winning 2-0 and sealing their victory with style. Goals in either half from Chuene Morifi and Nonhlanhla Mthandi secured the win, the tournament and the qualification. Boitumelo Rabale's spirited performance earned her the Player of the Match title. For Coach Jerry, the final held immense significance. He expressed, "As a coach, the final game was truly awe-inspiring to watch. The ladies displayed dominance right from the first minute, and as a coach, that's precisely what you hope for – to see the team execute the game plan flawlessly, especially on such a crucial stage. Our qualification was well-deserved. I'm delighted that the performance on the pitch reflects the hard work the ladies put in during training."
Throughout the tournament, Sundowns displayed unwavering resilience, with an impressive 21 goals scored and just one conceded. But their journey didn't end there. They clinched the COSAFA title, with Andisiwe Mgcoyi rightfully awarded the Golden Boot. Coach Koketso lauded Chuene Morifi for her exceptional performance throughout the entire tournament, which rightfully earned her the Player of the Tournament title. Additionally, Khunjulwa Mali received an honourable mention from the coach for her impressive contributions.

As the last line of defense, Andile Dlamini ensured safety between the sticks, conceding only one goal and earning the Golden Gloves award. Coach Koketso expressed his delight at witnessing Andile Dlamini back in action, stating, "It was truly heart-warming to see Andile back in the goal. I believe the entire nation shared in the happiness of her return to play."

Coach Jerry commended the entire team for their exceptional collective performance. He also extended an honorable mention to stand-out players Oratile Mokwena, Karabo Makhurubetshi, Khunjulwa Mali, and Miche Minnes, highlighting their remarkable contributions. Coach Jerry elaborated, saying, "Our squad showcased a wealth of talent throughout the tournament. Miche Minnes' achievement of netting two goals was a testament to her prowess. Khunjulwa Mali, despite limited prior game time, displayed magnificent football skills, while Karabo consistently delivered outstanding performances, especially during the group stages. These young talents are not just the future of Mamelodi Sundowns; they represent the promising future of South African women's football, demonstrating the depth and potential within the game."
This remarkable feat by the Sundowns Ladies not only brings pride to their fans but also elevates the standard and quality of women's club football in the region. It's a legacy-building journey, continuing the momentum from Banyana Banyana's historic World Cup appearance, and it's a testament to what can be achieved through dedication, teamwork, and sheer talent.

The domestic football structures in South Africa have undeniably paved the way for the emergence of exceptional female talent. At the heart of this progression lies the Hollywoodbets Super League, a pivotal platform in nurturing and honing the skills of promising female footballers. This domestic setup not only provides a rigorous training ground but also unlocks doors to regional and continental competitions. Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies, a product of this well-structured pathway, have risen to the pinnacle of South African women's soccer, emerging as the best in the country. Their journey, marked by consistent success in the Super League, culminated in their triumphant conquest of the COSAFA Cup, where they showcased their undeniable quality on the regional stage. Now, as they prepare to take on the continent's finest in the CAF Women's Champions League, Sundowns Ladies stand as a testament to the power of robust domestic structures in unearthing, nurturing, and propelling extraordinary talent to compete on the grandest of stages, inspiring generations of aspiring female footballers across the nation.

This remarkable journey underscores the tremendous potential within South African women's football. It sends a clear message: with more support, investment, and a carefully crafted policy framework, our domestic structures can become even more robust, unleashing a torrent of untapped talent. Coach Jerry emphasized that the outstanding performance of the ladies underscores the urgency of taking women's football seriously. While he acknowledged the progress made in elevating female football in South Africa, he emphasized the need for further advancements. He passionately advocated for the professionalization of the league, seeing it as the key to unlocking opportunities and enhancing women's football in the nation. Coach Jerry stated, "The evidence of our abundant talent is undeniable. Now, we must build the structures that nurture and develop that talent. Professionalizing the league is the path to this goal, allowing our players to fully commit to football without the constraints of balancing it with day jobs. This paves the way for better facilities and ample training time. With improved training, our players will naturally elevate their skills, consequently raising the standard of women's football in the country.”
To harness this potential fully, we must prioritize the development of women's football from grassroots levels up to professional tiers. Investment in facilities, coaching, and youth academies is crucial. Equally important is the creation of clear pathways, aligning local, regional, and continental competitions, much like the Hollywoodbets Super League has done. Enhanced partnerships between government bodies, sponsors, and clubs will be the cornerstone of this transformation. By fortifying our domestic football structures, we not only elevate the women's game but also lay the foundation for sustained success on the regional and global stages, ensuring that South African women's football continues to inspire and lead the way for generations to come.

Mamelodi Sundowns' unwavering commitment to the advancement of women's soccer serves as an inspiring example of what can be achieved when dedication meets opportunity. Yet, the responsibility to transform the landscape of women's football is not confined to a single entity. It is a collective endeavour that calls upon the South African Football Association (SAFA), government bodies, the private sector, citizens, and football clubs at large to recognize the potential of women's soccer and invest wholeheartedly in its growth. Coach Jerry also recognized the crucial role the private sector can play, “the private sector's involvement in this endeavour is crucial, as it can be a driving force in realizing this vision."
The blueprint for success already exists within the successful football clubs of South Africa. By extending their influence to women's soccer, these clubs can bring their established structures to the forefront, catalyzing progress and heralding a new era of inclusivity and excellence. This is the moment to shatter the glass ceiling, to invest in equal opportunity, and to uplift the dreams of countless aspiring female athletes.

For South Africa, embracing the momentum ignited by Banyana Banyana and the achievements of Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies requires a concerted effort from all corners, including the private sector. The Sasol Women's League and the Hollywoodbets Super League, and now the just ended COSAFA CAF qualifiers, where Sundowns Ladies have shone, stand as milestones of progress. Yet, these accomplishments merely scratch the surface of the potential that women's soccer holds. 
The responsibility falls on the shoulders of SAFA, government bodies, the private sector, football clubs, and every South African to usher in a new era of equality and respect for women's soccer. Sundowns Ladies serve as a shining example of what can be achieved when all stakeholders come together to support and promote women's football.