JOHANNESBURG - Banyana Banyana appear ready to set the Aisha Buhari Cup alight after coach Desiree Ellis’s side was bolstered with the arrival of internationally based players in camp ahead of their opening game against Ghana tomorrow in Nigeria.
It’s been almost two years since Ellis assembled a full strength squad, given that 2020 was disrupted by the outbreak of Covid-19. Since then Ellis and her slightly inexperienced side thrived in different competitions.
They defended their Cosafa Cup in Gqeberha late last year, while they opened the year with back-to-back wins over Zambia and Botswana at home. But the Buhari Cup will be a different kettle of fish for Ellis and her charges. Banyana are participating in the tournament as guests.
They’ll use the games to prepare for the Cosafa Cup and Africa Women’s Cup of Nations qualifiers. Upon arrival in Nigeria this week, Ellis confirmed that Janine van Wyk (Scotland), Refiloe Jane (Italy), Linda Motlhalo (Sweden), Hildah Magaia (Sweden) and Thembi Kgatlana (Spain) had joined the squad from their clubs.
“Yes, Thembi was the last one to arrive in the early hours of this morning. But we are happy to have the likes of Refiloe Jane whom we hadn’t seen since November 2019 as well as Linda who hasn’t been with us for some time,” she said.
“Hildah, who we saw in the Cosafa Cup in 2020, is also back with the squad. Janine and Thembi are also back, of course. So, we are just happy that everyone is in camp. It was good to see everyone at the breakfast table early this morning.”
Ellis continued: “It was really good to see the smiling eyes under the mask. We are really looking forward to it. We’ll start with our training session today to get ready for our first game on the 17th against Ghana. We were welcomed well also.”
Despite having a fully fledged team, Ellis is cautious about the long travelling hours that some of her stalwarts had to endure. As a result, she’s vowed that they’ll take that into consideration during the roundrobin tournament.
“We have to manage the travel fatigue, making sure that we do a lot of co-ordination and stretches. Making sure that players are taken care of after such long travels. We need to take care of them because we need them for the games,” Ellis said.
“They’ve been part of the set-up before, so we all know the drill. So we just need to take care of each other on this trip, especially the ones who came in late. The late travel, also, is important for us to start like this (with light training sessions).”
Adjusting the training schedule will give the international players time to recover, and allow the localbased players a chance to test themselves against some of Africa’s finest talents.
The CAF president, South Africa’s Patrice Motsepe, will be in attendance for the duration of the tournament alongside dignitaries such as Fifa president Gianni Infantino.