“It will be difficult, but the most important thing is to get to the final round,” said Banyana coach Desiree Ellis about the new Olympic qualification system. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix

JOHANNESBURG – Fresh from defending their Cosafa Championship title, Banyana Banyana coach Desiree Ellis has backed her troops to continue with the momentum in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic qualifiers.

The South Africans made their debut in the Olympics at the 2012 London festival. They begin their qualification for next year’s event against neighbours Botswana in the first leg away on Friday.

Ellis’ troops will head into this encounter high on confidence having won all matches in the Cosafa Championships, shaking the monkey off the back after enduring a 13-game winless streak.

Another boost for this match was the commencement of the inaugural National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) at the Nike Centre in Soweto last weekend.

“We have to win the match, of course,” said Ellis, who was speaking just after her team’s training session at Mark’s Park yesterday.

“We know that they’ve always given us a tough time.

“But sometimes we’ve also been very difficult to ourselves. And playing the away leg first, it will be important that we score.”

Botswana will go into this encounter more prepared than ever, having had a training camp in Slovakia, after they pulled out of the Cosafa Championships.

“They’ve prepared overseas, having been to Slovakia,” Ellis stated.

“And they returned to camp yesterday, so it’s obvious that they’ll be prepared, but we need to be on top of our game.”

A win for South Africa on Friday will set the tone regarding their aspirations in what appears to be their most gruelling qualifiers.

The qualifying system for next year’s Olympics has changed – the winning team from Africa will automatically qualify, while the runner-up gets a second chance by playing Chile in the playoffs.

Before the new rule was implemented, the top two teams from Africa automatically qualified for the tournament.

Ellis is not fazed by the pressure, though, and reckons that they’ll have to take each game as it comes.

“We’ll take each round as it comes. I think that’s the most important thing before getting far ahead of ourselves, because we might lose focus,” she said.

“It will be difficult, but the most important thing is to get to the final round. We have to make sure that we first win this round before we think of the next one.”

In the last edition of the Olympics, South Africa lost all their group stage matches, which subsequently saw Netherlands-born coach Vera Pauw bite the dust.

In came Ellis. There’s been tremendous progress at Banyana, highlighted by their qualification for their maiden World Cup this year.

However, the 56-year-old coach believes the general improvement of women’s football around the continent will put the nation among the best in the world.

“African teams haven’t been doing well, especially in the Olympics,” she said.

“Maybe that’s one of the reasons for the short-cut.

“So, we have to make sure that whoever goes to the Olympics does well, so that it can get back to two spots. Or better yet, we hope the Olympics will increase the slots to accommodate more teams.”


The Star

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