Sport

WOMEN’S SOCCER

Banyana Banyana ready for World Cup battle after Desiree Ellis picks her fighters

Banyana Banyana ready for World Cup battle after Desiree Ellis picks her fighters
Desiree Ellis (Banyana Banyana coach) during the South Africa women's national soccer team breakfast send-off at Radisson Blu Hotel Sandton on 21 June 2023 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo: Lubabalo Lesolle / Gallo Images)

The cohort set to represent South Africa at the upcoming Fifa Women’s World Cup is ready to rumble following Desiree Ellis picking her final squad for the global showpiece.

When Banyana Banyana coach Desiree Ellis named her final squad for the fast-approaching Fifa World Cup on Friday night, 23 June in Pretoria, there were some players who were left disappointed after not making the final cut.

Ellis initially selected a group of 36 hopefuls at the beginning of June, as part of a preliminary squad. Save for a few international players, since then the group has been hard at work trying to impress the technical team during a training camp in Johannesburg.

The likes of Italy-based midfielder Refiloe Jane (captain), goalkeeper Andile Dlamini, veteran Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies defender Bambanani Mbane, playmaker Linda Motlhalo, plus forwards Thembi Kgatlana and Jermaine Seoposenwe headlined the final squad.

These players have over the last few years formed the backbone of Banyana Banyana’s success, while excelling individually. As such, their inclusion was of little surprise.

Linda Motlhalo of South Africa during the Women’s International Friendly match between South Africa and Brazil at Moses Mabhida Stadium on 5 September 2022 in Durban, South Africa. (Photo: Darren Stewart / Gallo Images)

Bambanani Mbane of South Africa during the Women’s International Friendly match between South Africa and Brazil at Moses Mabhida Stadium on 5 September 2022 in Durban, South Africa. (Photo: Darren Stewart / Gallo Images)

Disappointed faces

However, some players who were part of Banyana’s Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (Wafcon) winning campaign did not make the final 23 for the New Zealand and Australia World Cup, which is now less than a month away.

These unlucky players include young striker Nthabiseng Majiya, third-choice goalkeeper Regirl Ngobeni, as well as University of Western Cape midfielder Amogelang Motau. The three have been named as standby players in case of injury to the selected group before the tournament.

Meanwhile Sundowns midfield pivot Thalea Smidt – also part of that historic Wafcon campaign (though mostly as an impact player) – was left out altogether.

The hard-nosed midfielder spent the early part of the season twiddling her thumbs on the sidelines at Sundowns.

Aware that it was a World Cup year and game time was crucial, she opted to move back to her former club, the University of Pretoria on loan for the remainder of the season after falling down the pecking order at Masandawana.

In spite of consistent performances since that switch in April, it was not enough for her to book her spot to the global showpiece for the first time.    

“It has been a tough week. It might have not been easy for you as players, but it was also not easy for me as the coach. If I could, I would have taken everyone. Unfortunately, I can only take 23 players,” said Ellis.

“I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to the whole group of 36 players for their enthusiasm, commitment and competitiveness during this time,” she added.

“Thank you for the hard work that each and every one of you has put in. But this is not the end of it. It still needs to continue, and it will get more challenging from here because the World Cup stage is a different ball game.”

Andile Dlamini of Mamelodi Sundowns during the Cosafa Women’s Champions League match between Double Action Ladies and Mamelodi Sundowns at Sugar Ray Xulu Stadium on 9 August 2022 in Durban, South Africa. (Photo: Darren Stewart / Gallo Images)

Tough group

During their World Cup debut in 2019, the South Africans failed to earn a single point and scored just one goal. That can be pinned on stage fright and inexperience as the players arrived on such a prestigious stage for the first time in their careers.   

On that occasion they were grouped with two-time world champions Germany, as well as Spain and China. Against the latter, they offered a decent account of themselves, but could not best the Asians. They ultimately lost 1-0 to add to the defeats against the Europeans.

This time around they are in Group G – alongside one of the leaders in women’s soccer, Sweden. Also present in the group are tough opponents in Italy and Argentina. Regardless, the team is aiming to make it out of the group.

Considering that serial African champions Nigeria have only ever made it to the knockout stages twice (despite playing in all the previous eight World Cup editions), Banyana’s prospects of achieving this goal are slim, though not impossible.

Ellis and her technical team are confident the players selected will position the side well as they aim to achieve this mandate. DM

Banyana Banyana final World Cup squad

Goalkeepers 

Andile Dlamini, Kaylin Swart, Kebotseng Moletsane

Defenders

Karabo Dhlamini, Fikile Magama, Lebohang Ramalepe, Tiisetso Makhubela, Noko Matlou, Bambanani Mbane, Bongeka Gamede

Midfielders 

Kholosa Biyana, Refiloe Jane, Sibulele Holweni, Linda Motlhalo, Nomvula Kgoale, Robyn Moodaly

Forwards 

Gabriela Salgado, Jermaine Seoposenwe, Noxolo Cesane, Melinda Kgadiete, Wendy Shongwe, Hildah Magaia, Thembi Kgatlana

Gallery

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