TALENT POOL FEVER PITCH
Desiree Ellis revels in her Banyana options as she picks a preliminary World Cup squad
A 36-player group has been granted an opportunity to impress Banyana Banyana coach Desiree Ellis and her technical team to stand a chance of heading to next month’s Fifa World Cup.
Banyana Banyana coach Desiree Ellis has partially revealed her cards with the latest edition of the Fifa Women’s World Cup on the horizon.
With a little more than a month left until the New Zealand/Australia-hosted showpiece (which starts on 20 July), Ellis has announced a 36-member preliminary squad which she will assess, before trimming it down for a final 23-player team — plus three reserves.
Ellis, who has previously spoken about her joy at having such a vast pool of players to choose from, labelled the selection of this tentative squad as one the toughest she’s had to make as a Banyana Banyana coach.
“As a coach, you always say players must raise their hand and make it difficult. And it has been very difficult [selecting the preliminary squad]. Congratulations to the players that have made the squad,” Ellis said.
With the local Hollywoodbets Super League growing year by year since its inception in 2019, as well as some stars of the team starring for their respective clubs overseas, Ellis feels like a kid in a candy store.
“We are always saying players must raise their hands, and many of them have raised their hands. But this is the group of players that we think we can select from, and they have raised their hands,” Ellis said on the preliminary selections.
“We are going to do a final selection as well as announce the final 23, plus three. That is even going to be more difficult. But this is the group of players that we think will do the job for us,” she added.
End of the road?
One notable, though unsurprising, exclusion is that of veteran defender Janine van Wyk.
In a statement, the South African Football Association (Safa) said Banyana Banyana’s highest capped player was initially “part of Ellis’ plans for the preliminary squad, but was eventually withdrawn from the list due to injury.”
Within the same media release, Van Wyk said: “I have sustained an injury that I feel would impact my chances of performing at the highest level required to make the World Cup squad. I have to turn down the call-up with a heavy heart, but also knowing that I am doing what is best for the team.”
The hard-tackling veteran (capped a record 180-plus times) had not been part of Banyana’s recent camps. And at 36-years-old, she is one of the oldest players in the national team setup.
Her absence grants young players such as Lonathemba Mhlongo and Fikile Magama the chance to stake their claim for a place in the final squad that will represent the country during its second soccer Women’s World Cup appearance.
Banyana Banyana made their debut in the competition in the 2019 showpiece which was hosted by France. They qualified for this edition by reaching the semi-finals of the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (Wafcon) last year.
They sweetened their second successive World Cup qualification by winning their maiden Wafcon title.
In pursuit of their first-ever point at the World Cup — after losing all their group games in France — Ellis and her charges find themselves in a challenging group.
The South Africans are in Group G and will come up against Sweden; ranked third in the world. Italy and Argentina (both in the top 30; Banyana are 54th) are the other group rivals. Claiming points will not be a breeze.
The final squad selections are scheduled to be announced at the end of June. DM
Banyana Banyana preliminary World Cup squad
Goalkeepers: Andile Dlamini, Kaylin Swart, Regirl Ngobeni, Kebotseng Moletsane, Asa Ramalao
Defenders: Bambanani Mbane, Noko Matlou, Bongeka Gamede, Lebogang Ramalepe, Lonathemba Mhlongo, Tiisetso Makhubela, Fikile Magama, Karabo Dhlamini, Asanda Hadebe, Cimone Sauls
Midfielders: Refiloe Jane, Linda Motlhalo, Sibulele Holweni, Kholosa Biyana, Amogelang Motau, Robyn Moodaly, Thalea Smidt, Thubelihle Shamase, Nomvula Kgoale
Forwards: Thembi Kgatlana, Jermaine Seoposenwe, Hildah Magaia, Melinda Kgadiete, Noxolo Cesane, Gabriela Salgado, Nthabiseng Majiya, Siphumelele Shamase, Ntombifikile Ndlovu, Lelona Daweti, Wendy Shongwe Nicole Michael