JOHANNESBURG – The sense of self belief that Banyana Banyana currently play with has its roots in a thrilling match they played a year ago.
It was a match that, according to coach Desiree Ellis, altered the South African women’s senior national team’s mindset for the better. And should they qualify for their maiden World Cup today, Banyana will know that the foundation was set on that beautiful September afternoon at Barbourfields Stadium in Bulawayo.
“Right now we believe we can. And the shift came at last year’s Cosafa Cup,” Ellis said as she anticipated today’s Africa Cup of Nations semi-final with Mali in Cape Coast, Ghana.
Just about everyone will remember that Ellis led the team to success at the Cosafa Cup, becoming the first person to win the regional competition both as a captain and coach. But only the discerning Banyana follower will remember just what guts the lasses displayed to be crowned champions.
“It all changed when we played Zambia (in the Cosafa Cup semi-final). We were 3-0 down with 15 minutes to go (and looked dead and buried). But we came back, equalised and went on to win on penalties,” Ellis said after their 1-1 draw with Zambia in their final Awcon group match at the weekend. That fightback, however, was more dramatic than Ellis let on.
The Zambians were looking good and went into halftime 2-0 up courtesy of strikes by Barbra Banda and Grace Chanda. When Misozi Zulu scored a third on 73 minutes, just about everyone in the stadium believed it was curtains for SA, except Banyana themselves. But two quick goals from Leandra Smeda, one of them a penalty, injected life into Banyana who went on to snatch the equaliser six minutes from time courtesy of Refiloe Jane. They duly slotted all their penalties to win 5-3 in a shoot-out.
“We then played in the final and we won (courtesy of a 90th-minute strike by Smeda) against a very partisan crowd of Zimbabwe and that is where the mindset and the shift change came,” Ellis explained.
Such results are bound to make a team believe they can achieve anything they set their minds on and this Banyana team is hellbent on being among the world’s top teams in France next year.
“We showed against Nigeria (whom they beat 1-0 in the opening match at Awcon) what we are capable of. And we have played the likes of the USA, France and Sweden and competed. The self belief is important. Believing that you can is important for us.”
They now need to believe they can beat Mali to realise their goal of playing at the World Cup.@Tshiliboy