Banyana Banyana celebrate with the Cosafa trophy after beating Zimbabwe 2-1 in Bulawayo on Sunday. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix
JOHANNESBURG – There was no popping of champagne bottles or any wild celebrations to commemorate the historic win.

Instead, Banyana Banyana’s interim head coach, Desiree Ellis, enjoyed a quiet night at home with her family after returning home victorious from the Cosafa Cup Championship this week.

“There was no party at all,” said Ellis of the tournament in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.

“It was a challenging few weeks so all I was looking forward to was relaxing at home. We took a few pictures with fans as we arrived back at the airport but that’s as much as we did.”

Ellis made history last weekend when she became the first South African - male or female - to win the championship both as a player and a coach.

The 54-year-old interim coach led the team to their fourth victory in the competition when they defeated Zimbabwe 2-1 in an exciting final at Barbourfields Stadium in Bulawayo last Sunday.

This is Ellis’s second gold medal: she won her first in 2002 as a national team player.

“I’m truly humbled by the achievement, but it was never about me ... It was always about the team,” said Ellis.

Desiree Ellis, coach of South Africa reacts during the 2017 COSAFA Women's Championship Final football match between South Africa and Zimbabwe at Barbourfields Stadium. Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

“I work with a special group of players. I was always confident the team could go all the way I said all along that they were special and indeed they proved they are.”

Having lifted the Cosafa Cup trophy as a player in 2002, Ellis said she had never imagined “in her wildest dreams” that she would win the same trophy as a coach.

“When I lifted the trophy in 2002, it was actually my last game as a Banyana player and I thought that was it for me. 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’s not about me, but the whole group. I will, however, cherish this for a long time to come.”

Ellis, who was appointed last October, said Banyana Banyana had gone into the tournament with a winning mentality. The team were unbeaten in the tournament.

“As a coach and as a team, it’s always the objective to go to a tournament and win it and that’s exactly the mentality we had The competition for places has been very tight with players really pushing each other in training and fighting to get into the starting 11.”

Ellis said the team’s remarkable comeback against Zambia in the semi-final had served as motivation before the final.

Down 3-0 in the 75th minute, Banyana Banyana scored three quick goals to leave the scores level at 3-3 at the end of regulation time and forced the match to a penalty shoot-out where they emerged victorious 5-3 to set up a repeat of the 2011 final where they played host Zimbabwe - and lost.

“During our pre-match the night before, our performance analyst, Shilene Booysen, played a motivational video of our semi-final win against Zambia and that was motivation enough,” said Ellis.

“Also, just before the team went onto the pitch, we reminded them we needed to start really well and try to score early to play possession football, get those one-two combinations going and make sure we have the crowd on our side.”

Ellis dedicated the historic victory in Bulawayo to her family, whom she describes as her pillar of strength.

“I’ve been away from home for long periods in the past three years and my family have been nothing but supportive. My brother and sisters keep sending me good luck and congratulatory messages.

“The victory is also dedicated to Cecil “Ta Gigi” Ntlebi, who coached me for many years at provincial level and recently passed on.”

Ellis revealed her interest in taking over Banyana Banyana permanently as the SA Football Association (Safa) is soon set to announce a permanent head coach.

“I would definitely be interested in continuing my journey with the team.”

Ellis hoped Banyana’s victory would inspire other African women to get involved in football.

“There are already several top female coaches around the world, but many women’s national teams in Africa don’t have female coaches.

“Florence Omagbemi won the 2016 African Women’s Cup of Nations with Nigeria, and in this year’s Cosafa final, the Zimbabwe coach was also a former player. So, female coaches in Africa are on the rise and hopefully that trend continues.”

Meanwhile, Safa president Danny Jordaan has heaped praise on Ellis and her troops.

“Desiree and her team have done the country proud. It was a difficult two weeks in which they showed their fighting spirit in a number of games on their way to the final.

“Also, the way they kept their composure after Zimbabwe had equalised in the final, when the crowd was rallying behind the hosts, showed how they have come of age,” said Jordaan this week.

Saturday Star

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