JOHANNESBURG – Banyana Banyana coach Desiree Ellis’ main focus is improving the team’s finishing department as they prepare to embark on the 2018 Cosafa Cup that they will be hosting later this month. A successful defence of their regional title would be a great motivator leading up to this year’s Africa Women’s Cup of Nations in Ghana later this year.
“Finishing is our biggest challenge at the moment,” said Ellis after the team’s fitness session at the Nike Centre in Soweto yesterday. “We will continue working on it, but we cannot do that alone as a national team. The players need to go back home (to their teams) and also work on it, but it’s not just the strikers, everyone. We need everyone for set-piece plays so we can all be prepared.’’
Banyana needed a collective team effort last term against hosts Zimbabwe to bounce back from a 3-0 deficit in the second half and go all the way to clinch the title in the shoot-out from the penalty spots. That triumph propelled them to being crowned the 2017 Caf Women’s Team of the year.
The tournament was also a breeding ground for Thembi Kgatlana, who was one of the two finalists for the Caf Woman of the Year award. Since then, Kgatlana has spread her wings high and moved to American outfit Houston Dash where she is teammates with compatriots Janine van Wyk and Linda Motlhalo.
Ellis believes that as hosts, the pressure for them to produce yet another triumph has mounted:
“Coming into the national team is added pressure,” she said. “And, playing at home is more added pressure because fans don’t take it lightly if you are not playing well. But I think the payers know what’s at stake.
To win it will be huge, as it sets the momentum and helps with the confidence of everyone in the team. We have to rule the southern hemisphere first before we can rule Africa.”
The finals in Accra will be Banyana’s 12th participation in the tournament since its inception in 1991. But they are yet to claim the continent’s bragging rights.
“We’ll be ready for the Awcon,” Ellis said. “We have a bigger core group that’s very committed and dedicated. We put the grindstone down when we send them to training. Awcon might be a while away, but we will be prepared.”
A good Awcon is not only about Banyana wanting to finally become continental champions. There is also the lure of participation at the 2019 Fifa Women's World Cup tin France to qualify for by reaching the final. And that will be the driving force for Banyana in Ghana. But first up is the Cosafa Cup on home soil.@Mihlalibaleka