Sport

WOMEN’S FOOTBALL

Banyana upbeat before Tunisia clash, despite setbacks

Banyana upbeat before Tunisia clash, despite setbacks
Nthabiseng Ronisha Majiya of South Africa scores past Botswana goalkeeper Marylin John during the 2022 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations match at Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium, Rabat, Morocco on 10 July 2022. (Photo: Gavin Barker / BackpagePix)

South Africa’s senior women’s football side is now just one victory away from sealing a second consecutive appearance at the Fifa Women’s World Cup.

Though there is still room for improvement in their displays, South Africa were one of just two sides (alongside 2022 hosts Morocco) competing at the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (Wafcon) to finish the group phase with three wins from three matches.

That perfect group phase display has since been soured by an injury to star striker Thembi Kgatlana, as well as some members in the Banyana Banyana camp picking up Covid-19.

Kgatlana ruptured her Achilles tendon in Banyana’s final group game against Botswana — an injury that ended her participation in the continental showpiece and will see her sitting on the sidelines for the next few months.

banyana ellis

Desiree Ellis, coach of South Africa. (Photo: Samuel Shivambu / BackpagePix)

As if that blow wasn’t big enough, there are now also concerns of a Covid-19 breakout after the South African Football Association said on Tuesday that the Desiree Ellis-coached side would be forced to soldier on without a few players after positive Covid-19 cases emerged within the team’s camp in Rabat.  

In spite of these setbacks, Ellis said the players currently in the camp were upbeat and ready to tackle Tunisia on Thursday night.

Speaking after the team’s return to training following a rest day in the aftermath of their 1-0 win over Botswana, Ellis said: “It [training] went really well. We worked on a few things that we intend to do in the game. I was really excited to see what transpired. The mood is high, the players are looking forward to the game.”

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Nthabiseng Ronisha Majiya of South Africa celebrates her goal during the 2022 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations match against Botswana at Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium, Rabat on 10 July 2022. (Photo: Samuel Shivambu / BackpagePix)

Though cognisant of the potential effects of the recent blows on the team, Ellis said her side was focused on the task at hand. A win against Tunisia will see the team reach the semifinals, thereby securing a place at the 2023 Fifa Women’s World Cup — which is being co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand.  

“We know why we are here. Losing Thembi was a huge blow. But we lost Gabriela Salgado before the tournament and people have stepped up. I know Thembi is a top-quality player, but it’s also an opportunity [for others] to step up. Other countries have lost players. Nigeria lost Asisat Oshoala, and Botswana lost a player as well,” said Ellis.

“So, we just reminded the players why we are here. Thembi also reminded the players that the journey still continues. We know that our first aim is to qualify for the World Cup. That game is almost upon us,” Ellis said.

“We selected the squad for every eventuality. Though we didn’t expect this, the versatility has to come through now. And what I saw at training today [Tuesday] was really encouraging.”

The 59-year-old former Banyana Banyana captain is hopeful that her side can ride the wave of their perfect record in the group phase. They beat defending champions Nigeria and tournament debutants Burundi, plus neighbours Botswana on their way to topping Group C.

“We wanted to make sure that we don’t leave it to the calculators and the permutations. We wanted to make sure that we keep that top position. It also gives you confidence. It gives you a lot of momentum,” stated Ellis.

“It was really important to continue with that momentum going into the next game, which is the big one, the quarterfinal. There is no second chance, no three points. This is a game where we have to give our all to make sure we reach [one of] our objectives — which is to qualify for the World Cup.”

Banyana’s clash against the North African nation kicks off at 10pm SA time on Thursday, 13 July. DM

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