The University of Fort Hare women’s soccer team put last year’s early-season lesson to good use when they opened the Sasol League with a decisive 5-1 victory over Madibaz in Gqeberha at the weekend.
Coach Asanda Mnakaniso said one of the big factors they picked up from 2022 was the need to set the tone for their campaign from the beginning.
“Last season we did not do very well in our opening game when we drew with East London side Nav Galaxy. That was a lesson learnt.”
Knowing that a good result in the first game could boost the team’s confidence from the outset, they were fully focused on making a better start.
“So, we prepared well for the Madibaz clash,” he said.
The Fort Hare mentor explained that the successful outcome stemmed from the players sticking to the game plan of keeping their opponents on the back foot.
“The approach was to reach the final third of the field in their half as much as possible. That put the Madibaz defence under pressure and resulted in us scoring three goals in the first half.”
Mnakaniso said away games were always a challenge and the Madibaz were a solid team to boot.
“But our players were comfortable because of the systems we had in place. Basically, we focus on performing well in different departments.”
For instance, he explained, it was the goalkeeper’s duty to organise the defenders into a compact unit that could not easily be shaken.
The midfield department was there to feed the attackers with possession and a lot of these transitional plays, which often featured more than five players in the build-up, resulted in goals.
He felt that having a watertight defence would be the key to improve on their third-place finish of last year.
“It’s always hard to pick out problems after a satisfying result but we strongly believe that the key to winning is not to concede goals. We always work hard to improve our defence, which all our players seem to understand.”
Last season, Fort Hare scored 57 goals while only conceding 14 in their 16 matches and the coach said their goal was to improve on those stats.
Although delighted with their winning start, Mnakaniso emphasised that they would not look beyond the next game.
“This season the team will play the first three games away and the aim is to focus on just one at a time.”
He did not want to go to the next game with the hype of the previous game still fresh in their memories.
“We just want to put maximum focus on the next match to strive for another three points.”
Their second fixture is against Bay Stars in Gqeberha on April 1.
“We have a good record against them as we won both legs last season, but that doesn’t mean we can relax. This is a new season and teams have signed new players, so we will just aim to be the best we can be.”
Mnakaniso said their opponents had very good coaches and therefore they were preparing to expect the unexpected.