CAPE TOWN – Twelve months ago Desiree Ellis was sitting at the same table trying to find positives after a 3-0 defeat to Sweden. Now she sits and bemoans minor technical aspects like “a lack of movement and availability of players” after a goalless draw against the same highly-ranked opposition.
That’s how much the goalposts have changed for Banyana Banyana. No longer are they content to compete with their more illustrious European opponents and simply take away lessons from the encounter.
After a cautious start in the previous encounter against the Netherlands last Saturday, Ellis took off the training wheels and unleashed striker Thembi Kgatlana on Sweden.
The former University of the Western Cape star has an engine that just keeps on running, and a further set of nitro energy boosters that just sees her tear away from defenders. Kgatlana was at the heart of every Banyana attack, terrorising the lumbering Swedes with her pace.
“If you look at Thembi, she doesn’t care who is in front of her. She just feels like she can do anything and so do the rest of the players, and I think that has rubbed off on the newer players,” Ellis said. “We also knew that they struggle with pace, so we changed it a bit. We went with two quickies up front and that put them under a lot of pressure.
“I thought we started very well compared to the match with the Netherlands; we were a lot more composed, a lot more on the ball, and putting the captain (Refiloe Jane) in the middle also helped us stabilise.”
However, for all their improvement and accolades earned over the past year that included an Africa Women’s Cup of Nations runners-up medal, Banyana are still very much a “work in progress”.
Their enterprising play must be converted into goals if they are to consistently challenge higher ranked opposition, while Ellis highlighted a couple of further areas the team need to improve on before they head off to the Fifa World Cup in France in June.
“I feel at times we lose the ball too easily. There’s no pressure and we want to force it and we spoke about being a little bit more patient in our build-up,” Ellis said.
“Our movement up front and availability of players when we have the ball needs to improve also. The final pass at times was also a bit rushed, and if we were a bit more composed in front of goal, we would have a lot more shots on target.
“But we were happy, not just with the performance but the fitness level too.”@ZaahierAdams