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Wafcon victory a watershed moment for Banyana coach Desiree Ellis

Wafcon victory a watershed moment for Banyana coach Desiree Ellis
Desiree Ellis, Banyana coach, celebrates victory after the 2022 Women's Africa Cup of Nations final match between Morocco and South Africa at Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium, Rabat, on 23 July 2022. (Photo: Samuel Shivambu / BackpagePix)

Desiree Ellis, one of the founding members of the Banyana Banyana team, experienced a watershed moment after leading the South Africans to a maiden Women’s Africa Cup of Nations title – as their coach.

Desiree Ellis has done it all with Banyana Banyana. 

She was there as assistant coach when Dutch football mentor Vera Pauw qualified the team for a second Olympics Games in 2016. The team’s maiden Olympic qualification had come four years earlier, courtesy of coach Joseph Mkhonza.

Ellis was there in 2018, the previous instalment of the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (Wafcon), as the South Africans went all the way to the final before they were edged by fierce rivals Nigeria during a penalty shootout.

It was the fifth time the team had fallen at the final hurdle, having also reached tournament decider in 1995, 2000, 2008 and 2012 – the latter finals both taking place in Equatorial Guinea, where the hosts were crowned champions.  

Ellis led the team to a maiden Fifa Women’s World Cup participation a year after that Wafcon heartbreak – an achievement she described to Daily Maverick in the lead-up to the 2022 Wafcon as the “highlight of her tenure to date”.

Now she can update her list of highlights – which encompass being crowned African women’s coach of the year three times in a row – to include her team’s historic triumph in Morocco.

“It’s a victory for those who have come before. Banyana did not start now. It started a long time ago. It shows that we’re on the right track. It shows that we’re moving forward. It’s fantastic that we were able to win the gold medal,” Ellis told journalists during Banyana’s homecoming at OR Tambo International Airport.

South African senior women’s national football team head coach Desiree Ellis waves as they are welcomed by hundreds of fans at OR Tambo International Airport on 26 July 2022. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Founding member

Coincidentally, before her significant contributions from the dugout, Ellis was one of the founding members of Banyana Banyana in 1993. Two years later, as a forward, she led the line as Banyana made their debut in the continental showpiece after South Africa’s post-apartheid readmission to international sport.

She also featured in the 2000 edition as Banyana reached their first final – where they lost 2-0 to Nigeria’s Super Falcons.

That particular match had to be abandoned as angry South African supporters hurled projectiles onto the pitch after the Nigerians had doubled their lead at the Vosloorus stadium. Their actions forced play to halt 20 minutes early – with the Super Falcons declared the victors.

Reflecting on that moment in her football career, Ellis, who is also a former Banyana Banyana captain, told journalists: “You always look back to go forward. You always look back at what you could’ve done better. It’s a cycle. But I am just glad that we’ve brought this medal home for the country. 

“I’m glad that we’ve become one of just two countries whose male and female teams have won the Africa Cup of Nations.”

Coach Desiree Ellis of South Africa celebrates victory after the 2022 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations final match between Morocco and South Africa at Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium, Rabat, on 23 July 2022. (Photo: Samuel Shivambu / BackpagePix)

Significant sacrifices

In the aftermath of her team’s triumphant win, Ellis shared with the South African Football Journalists’ Association some of the sacrifices she has had to make to reach the pinnacle of African football.

“When I played for the national team, I lost my job along the way,” Ellis said.

“Just after 2010, I could have gone to the Netherlands for a Uefa B Coaching Licence. I was not employed at the time and I had four months left on my car repayments, and I had a bond to pay,” the 59-year-old coach added.

“If I had gone, I would have lost my car and most probably my house too. So I sacrificed. And here I am today. The hard work and sacrifices you put in that no one sees … this is the reward.” DM

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