Head coach of the South African Women’s Olympic Team, Vera Pauw, says after eight months of preparation for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, their journey has come to an end, and it was an amazing one.

Head coach of the South African Women’s Olympic Team, Vera Pauw, says after eight months of preparation for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, their journey has come to an end, and it was an amazing one.

Banyana Banyana bid the Olympics farewell with a gallant performance that saw them hold Brazil to a goalless draw.

Not many had given the South Africans a chance against the hosts, who had demolished China 3-0 and ran riot over Sweden with a 5-1 victory in their first two matches.

But Banyana Banyana have a fighting spirit like no other and they put the brakes on the home side’s winning streak, in front of a packed Amazonia Arena in Manaus, Brazil.

The clash took place on Tuesday, 9 August.

Banyana Banyana’s rock solid defence and great goalkeeping won the day for them.

“We had intentions of winning, and this starts by not conceding. We gave everything in the second half of this match and in the end we had nothing else to give, that is how difficult it was. But if you compare with a while ago, we could not give teams at this level a good game,” said Pauw speaking to the media in Manaus.

“This shows we have grown so much in the last six months that we can only say it has been a tremendous journey, and hopefully a professional league will start in South Africa because if you can showcase this with this group of players, then you have to take care of the future of the game so that new talent can come in – and a professional league is the only way to drive forward into the future of women’s football in South Africa.”

Drawn in Group E against the hosts, Sweden and China, South Africa will leave South America having won themselves fans with their spirited display, even though they could not proceed to the second round. They also failed to score in all three matches despite creating many chances.

“That is the lesson after a tournament like this – against Sweden we were unlucky not to get away with a point, the China match showed that if you don’t convert your chances then you will be punished. Although China was stronger, we could have scored three or four times in the opening minutes. Brazil is a top team, and even when they left several first team players on the bench, their quality still showed because most of their players are based abroad. I hope our players have showcased themselves that people will sign them up because they deserve it. They have shown what they are capable of and what they can add to teams,” added Pauw.

The Banyana Banyana mentor believes that although it is still early days, from what she has seen so far the hosts are the tournament favourites.

“As I said before, up to this point the Brazilian team has shown more maturity with lots of variety in the game, and teamwork that is incomparable with any. Since 2003 I have not seen a team who could dictate the pace the of the game, and Brazil is the first team after Germany in 2003 who can do that. It has to do with the talent in the team and the understanding and knowledge of the game. It is a joy to watch, and fantastic to experience,” said Pauw.

“They can slow the game down and speed it up again with ease, and only world class players can do that. In my opinion, that was the only thing lacking in our game over the last World Cup tournaments and continental competitions. I think potentially Brazil has the team that can go for gold in this tournament, although it is still a long way to go. But it was amazing to see them at play and even more amazing to play them.”

And as South Africa heads home, Pauw has complimented the organisers of the tournament and showered praise on the volunteers. Banyana Banyana was one of the first teams to arrive in Rio de Janeiro last month (24 July 2016), before the start of the Olympics.

“I would also like to thank to thank all the volunteers, not only in Manaus but also in Rio and everybody who has been helping us. They always did so with a smile, even under difficult circumstances. Where there was chaos they created calm. To the Brazilian population thank you so much for giving this to us. We will never forget that you made us feel special. Good luck with the organisation going forward,” said Pauw.

With their assignment over, the South Africans will depart Manaus today (Wednesday, 10 August 2016) and head back to Rio de Janeiro.

They are expected to fly back home on Thursday, 11 August and land on Friday, 12 August.