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Banyana Banyana have Africa Women Cup of Nations win in their sights

Banyana Banyana have Africa Women Cup of Nations win in their sights
Sylia Koli of Algeria and Kholosa Biyana of South Africa during the 2022 Africa Women Cup of Nations qualifier match at Orlando Stadium on 18 February 2022 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo: Lefty Shivambu / Gallo Images)

Now that Banyana know their Africa Women Cup of Nations opponents, the coach can begin plotting a path to the title.

In spite of a perennial dominance of the regional Cosafa Cup, the South African  women’s football team are still on the hunt for an elusive Africa Women Cup of Nations (Awcon) title.

During the last edition in 2018, Desiree Ellis’s side missed out on the crown by the skin of their teeth. They went down 4-3 to Nigeria, on penalties. The team’s only consolation was that, by finishing as runners-up, they sealed their maiden Fifa Women’s World Cup appearance in 2019.

For the 2022 edition they have again been pitted against the Nigerians, whom they managed to beat in the 2018 group phase, before the Super Falcons soared when it mattered the most.

Now, Banyana Banyana have an opportunity to exact some revenge over their sworn rivals since the tournament draw on 29 April. They also have to contend with Botswana and Burundi – both making their debut at the continental showpiece.

“Well, we always knew the draw was not going to be easy. Nigeria, the defending champions and multiple winners, always bring their A game and know what it takes to win,” Ellis said in reaction to the draw.

Ellis and her charges will be buoyed by their most recent result against the Nigerians. Banyana were 4-2 victors in the final of the inaugural Aisha Buhari Cup invitational tournament, hosted and organised by the west African nation. South Africa’s first group match is against Nigeria. There they will hope to clip the wings of the Super Falcons once again, as they did in the Buhari Cup.

“We have played them a few times in the group stages. They have raised their levels and we have to raise our levels even higher to get a positive result. The first game is the most important game and once again we need a positive result but it will take a huge effort,” Ellis said about the Nigerian threat.

Desiree Ellis, coach of South Africa’s senior women’s team, during Banyana Banyana training on 23 October 2021. (Photo: Sydney Mahlangu / BackpagePix)

Assessing the debutants

Regarding Burundi, the former South Africa international admitted having some knowledge of the east Africans and said that she is looking forward to a good first tie.

“Burundi are one of the debutants, but they are not here by chance. We have not played them before but have seen them during the qualifiers and will have an opportunity during the tournament to see more of them as well,” she noted.

The final occupant of Group C and the team Banyana Banyana will end their mini-league campaign against is neighbouring Botswana – whom they beat in the 2020 Cosafa Women’s Cup final.

“Botswana are from our Cosafa region and are another debutant who we know a lot about, having played each other so many times,” said the two-time CAF Women’s Coach of the Year.

Despite their dominant record against their southern African neighbours, South Africa have painful memories of the Mares kicking them out of their quest to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. But Ellis said that was all in the past and they were zoned in on the future.

“We have not lost to them in 90 minutes in 10 meetings, but we must not forget the Tokyo Olympic qualifier where we failed to score in both matches and lost on a penalty shootout,” she said.

“We have already played them a few times after they cut short our quest to qualify for the 2020 Olympics and have got good results. It’s never about revenge as it’s a totally different competition and game.

“It’s just about the next game and/or next competition. We know a lot of each other and the games have been very tight and I expect this one to be no different.”

Banyana Banyana will begin their title bid against Nigeria on 4 July in Rabat, Morocco. They will then take on Burundi three days later. The culmination of their group phase will come versus regional rivals Botswana on 10 July.

Squad selection process

With women’s football having grown in leaps and bounds in SA over the past decade, Ellis and her technical team have a host of quality players to potentially call upon for the tournament.

There are a few internationally based players who will likely select themselves if they are fit and available. The list includes players such as Spain-based Thembi Kgatlana, who finished as top scorer at the 2018 tournament with five goals. There is also Linda Motlhalo, who brings unrivalled flair and creativity.

Locally, leaders such as Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies duo Bambanani Mbane and Andile Dlamini are likely to feature in the coach’s final squad list in their quest for continental glory in Morocco.

However, with such a wide pool to choose from, it will be a tough task for the coach and her advisers to trim the list down to the 21 players required. Speaking to DM168, Ellis shared some of the technical team’s selection methodology for tournaments in particular.

“People will ask why this player isn’t in the team, but then you chose that one… When we select our teams, we also look at the different formations that we can play, because you have to have a Plan A, Plan B and a Plan C,” said the former Banyana Banyana forward.

She hinted that, with the limitations in terms of the players a technical team can select to take to the tournament, it’s crucial to cover all your bases by choosing players  you can call on to play in multiple positions – in case of injury, illness or suspension in the team.

“We also have to look at whether we have all the positions covered enough. So, sometimes a player loses out because of that. For example, if you have a striker [who] can only play as a striker … maybe the striker is not your first or second choice,” said Ellis.

“But you have a striker and a winger who can [both] play across the front three. Then that striker who can only play in that position loses out. Because you’ve got to look at covering all your bases when you’re going for a tournament. You have to have players [who] are … versatile.”

Ellis and her support staff have a few weeks to analyse the players and start curating a final list.

With the domestic leagues – the top-flight Hollywoodbets Super League and second-tier Sasol League – kicking off recently, many will be playing out of their skin to impress the national coach and her technical team. This they will do in the hopes of being part of a Banyana team out to make history in Morocco. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.

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