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Nigeria v South Africa: Olympic Games qualifier will be a ‘battle’, says Desiree Ellis

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Ellis has been boosted by the return of captain and Sassuolo midfield dynamo Refiloe Jane, who picked up a knee injury in the World Cup group-stage match against Argentina last July.

Another player who has also recovered from injury is Mamelodi Sundowns defender Bambanani Mbane.

She returns to the national team for the first time since rolling an ankle in the team’s historic 3-2 win over Italy at the World Cup in Wellington, which sealed their spot in the last 16.

However, Ellis will be without goalkeeper Andile Dlamini, who starred at Wafcon in Morocco two years ago, because of medical reasons.

“I was on my knees praying no-one gets injured because it happened to us in the past where we lost players at the last minute,” Ellis said.

“We are without Andile, but I’m happy that we have Mbane, Refiloe Jane, Bongeka Gamede and Sibulele Holweni back.

“That warms my heart and is very encouraging because those are your more experienced players.

“Experience is going to help in this situation because it might be a hostile environment in Nigeria.”

The game will also see two of the best players on the continent – South Africa forward Thembi Kgatlana and Nigerian counterpart Asisat Oshoala – go head-to-head.

Both are now plying their trade in the Americas, with Kgatlana at Mexican club Tigres UANL and Oshoala in her first season at new National Women’s Soccer League franchise Bay FC.

“Nigeria have been serial winners and consistent for the last couple of years. For us to be put in the same bracket as them, we’ve got to be consistent in our game,” added Ellis.

Lebogang Ramalepe, who won the Women’s African Champions League with Sundowns last year, says the Banyana squad “know how important” the first leg in Abuja will be.

“It is a matter of we just must go there and give our best,” said the defender.

The women’s football tournament at the 2024 Olympic Games begins on 25 July, a day before the opening ceremony in Paris, with the final on 10 August.

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