BULAWAYO – Banyana Banyana interim head coach Desiree Ellis has made history by becoming the first South African – male or female – to win the Cosafa Cup Championship both as a player and a coach.
Ellis led Banyana Banyana to their fourth victory in the competition when they defeated hosts Zimbabwe 2-1 in an exciting final on Sunday at Barbourfields Stadium in Bulawayo.
This was her second gold medal after she won her first back in 2002 as a national team player.
“That was such a long time ago, but yes it does feel special. I did not in my wildest dreams think that this could happen to me, and coming to this tournament that was the furthest thing on my mind.
“Even though I am excited with what I have achieved, the credit should go to the players because they worked hard for it.
“Some players may not come back to this team, but they have something to shout about, they have created memories for themselves – it is not about me, but the whole group. I will, however, cherish this for a long time to come,” said Ellis.
When she won her first medal, the former Banyana Banyana captain came up against current Zimbabwe coach Sithethelelwe Sibanda, who was still a player back then.
“After the game, I went and shook hands with her and told her that today was not her day, and she admitted that Banyana were the better team.
“They gave us a run for our money because they have a very good team that was also at the 2016 Rio Olympics, just like us, but I guess we wanted it more. My heart goes out to her and her side as they gave their all, but we were better prepared,” added Ellis.
She was particularly impressed by the way her team improved in the tournament.
“In the first match against Lesotho, we just couldn’t find our footing, but as the tournament progressed, we were able to do what we wanted.
“While the focus could be on the final, my most memorable match in the tournament will forever be the semi-final against Zambia, where we staged what I believe was one of the greatest comebacks in history of the game – 3-0 down with 15 minutes remaining, and we scored three goals in nine minutes to win the match on penalties,” said Ellis.
“I believe the tournament was won on that day, even though we didn’t know it then. The character displayed on the day carried us through, and I guess that is why we were so comfortable in the final against the hosts with all their supporters.
“We all believed that if we survived that miracle against Zambia, no one will stand in our way. It was a special performance from a special group of players.
“In the final, we were in control and never felt threatened at any stage. We played a very good game and I am proud of this team.”
The South Africans scooped four out of five Player of the Match awards – Nothando Vilakazi (vs Lesotho), Thembi Kgatlana (vs Namibia), Leandra Smeda (vs Zambia) and Bambanani Mbane (vs Zimbabwe) – and only missed out on the 1-1 draw against Botswana.
Banyana Banyana also scored 12 goals in five matches, with four different goal-poachers – Kgatlana (4), Smeda (4), Chantelle Esau (3) and Rhoda Mulaudzi (1) – with Kgatlana also voted Player of the Tournament.
While all the players managed to get some action during the tournament, only two played every minute of all the five matches – captain Refiloe Jane and defender Mbane.
Three players also collected their second gold medals in the competition – Noko Matlou, Vilakazi and Esau – the first was in 2008.
This was the fifth edition of the tournament – and Banyana Banyana’s fourth win after lifting the trophy in 2002, 2006 and 2008. They only missed out in 2011 when they were pipped to the podium by Zimbabwe.
Safa president Danny Jordaan congratulated Banyana Banyana on winning the Cosafa Women’s Championship.
“To Desiree and her team, I want to say well done; you have done the country proud. It was a difficult two weeks in which you showed your fighting spirit in a number of games on your way to the final.
“And the way you kept your composure after Zimbabwe had equalised in the final when the crowd was rallying behind the hosts, showed you have come of age,” said Jordaan.
He said the gold medal was due reward for Banyana Banyana, who have been one of the most consistent national teams in the country.
“You have qualified for the Olympics, the Women Africa Cup of Nations and regional tournaments without failure. This is a hallmark of a consistent team.
“If you keep your feet on the ground, you are headed for great things,” added Jordaan.
Banyana Banyana returned home to a warm welcome at OR Tambo Airport in Johannesburg on Monday morning.
African News Agency (ANA)