Could this finally be Banyana Banyana's year?

If preparation, organisation, and motivation were the measures of champions, the rest of the field might as well surrender the 2018 Africa Women Cup of Nations trophy to South Africa.

Banyana Banyana, AWCON finalists in 2012 and fourth place finishers at the last two tournaments, appear to have zeroed in on a target of winning their first-ever title, and with it their maiden trip to a FIFA Women's World Cup.

Banyana are second only to Nigeria in number of appearances at Africa's premiere championship for women, since the inaugural competition in 1991. Of the 12 official tournaments, South Africa have only missed one, the 1995 edition when they withdrew.

In that period, they have been runners up four times, finished third twice and fourth two times for a total of nine top four finishes behind Nigeria and Cameroon. Their points haul of 71 is second only to Nigeria, although a long way shy of the Super Falcons' 126.

For all of the impressive numbers, the one thing they have never managed is to claim the top prize. Outside of Nigeria, who have won 10 out of 12, only Equatorial Guinea have managed that honour.

After four near misses, Banyana now look primed to make a strong play for the top prize. And they have made no bones about it.

Of all the teams going to Ghana, Banyana Banyana can claim to be the most prepared. By the time they run out for their friendly against hosts Ghana on November 11, they would have played a total of 15 games in 2018. That is way more than any other team on the continent.

Their results in those games have not been shabby, either. They racked up eight wins, three draws, and three losses. Those losses came against tough European and South American opposition in Sweden, Belgium, and Chile. They did beat Hungary and drew with Korea DPR, Slovakia, and Chile.

All their other wins came against African opposition, including 2016 AWCON finalists Cameroon, whom they despatched 2-1 in the COSAFA Cup final.

By contrast, Nigeria have only played eight games. Five of those were at the WAFU Cup, where they were beaten in the semifinals by Ghana, one was a friendly which they lost scandalously to France 8-0, and the other two were the two-legged AWCON qualifiers against Gambia, which they won 7-0 on aggregate.

Banyana head coach Des Ellis, who meets Nigeria in the first game of the group stage, is feeling decidedly bullish, albeit with cautious optimism. "It definitely helps playing International friendlies as well as the COSAFA Cup to get the team ready for the biggest tournament since 2014," Ellis told KweséESPN.

"But it can only be an advantage when you get the job done where it matters most, and that is at AWCON. It would be naive going into a tournament and not wanting to win.

"We have prepared well, have to plan even better but the most important thing is the execution during the tournament and it always starts with the first game as that sets the tone for the rest o the tournament.

"It does not come any bigger than playing Nigeria."

Beyond winning the tournament, Banyana's first priority, and the force for their strategic planning, is qualifying for what would be their maiden World Cup appearance. To do that, they need to finish in the top three in Ghana.

Ellis explains why it's important, even beyond a trip to France: "With the National League anticipated to start next year, it is not negotiable. We have to qualify for the World Cup.

"It will take football in our country to a different level and create more opportunities for players who could get contracts abroad, and change the lives of many footballers and their families."

To further that cause, SAFA this week revealed remuneration for the players going into the tournament, showing that they could earn up to R160 000 (about $11 500) per player for winning the tournament.

South Africa are definitely leaving no stone unturned and it would almost be a cruel twist of football fate if this is not the year they finally lay their hands on the AWCON trophy.