Despite enduring a turbulent preparation period ahead of their maiden Fifa Women’s World Cup campaign, Banyana Banyana coach Desiree Ellis is optimistic they can pull a rabbit out of the hat when they open their account against Spain at Stade Oceane in Le Havre, France, tonight (6pm SA time kick-off).
South Africa head to their first World Cup having endured a winless streak in their build-up matches this year, losing six and drawing three.
With the South African senior women’s team in line to feature at their biggest international tournament, coach Ellis believes they have a few tricks up their sleeves for La Roja’s women’s team.
“If we can do our task well as a group and individuals, then everything should be okay,” Ellis explained.
“It would be remiss if we say we are not ready yet. It’s upon us now. You can see it in the eyes of the players at training and how much they want it.
“But we’ve got to deliver on the field. They’ve been in similar positions, although it (the World Cup) might be a couple of levels up from Afcon.”
Spain are ranked 16th in the world, and South Africa are 33 places behind, but Ellis says they have done an intense analysis of their counterparts.
“We wanted to make sure that the players understand their roles on the field because come match day, it’s all about them,” Ellis said.
“We would have done the planning, but it’s all about them on the field, encouraging and helping each other. We have a plan, obviously, and during training we tried to make sure that they understood that.
“Hopefully we can use our strengths as well. We analysed Spain as much as they also analysed us.”
Ellis hopes a similar gamble from the Africa Women’s Cup of Nations pays off.
In the opener against Nigeria, Thembi Kgatlana, the reigning Queen of African Football made an impact from the bench after scoring her team’s solitary strike that ensured they opened their campaign on a high note.
“We are looking at the avenues of how we can spring surprises, and there might be two or three players that people might expect to start but they might start from the bench,” Ellis explained.
However, considering that it’s a breakthrough stage for almost everyone, Ellis has urged her troops to put up a fight, but most importantly enjoy themselves when they take the field in Le Havre.
Before all roads led to France, it was 12 failed attempts for South Africa in their pursuit to reach the global event.
However, in the last edition of the Africa Women’s Cup of Nations, Ellis’s troops achieved the improbable in style, finishing second in the tournament following a defeat in the final to rivals Nigeria via the lottery of penalty shoot-outs.
“I am excited (for myself and the) team and players,” Ellis said.
“It was a long, hard task qualifying for the tournament but this is bigger now. As the Fifa slogan says ‘Dare To Shine', it’s their time to shine now. It’s all about the players. The world is watching, and South Africa at large. It’s up to them now to raise their hands and put their foot forward.”