Ellis’ team booked their place in the third round of African qualifiers with a 2-0 win over Democratic Republic of the Congo on Monday (3-1 on aggregate).
While stand-in captain Thembi Kgatlana starred with a brace, it was the performances of new players all around the pitch that caught the eye.
The African champions missed key players such as defenders Bambanani Mbane and Noko Matlou, as well as midfield general Refiloe Jane through injury.
Opportunity for Ellis
The absentees presented Ellis with an opportunity to shuffle her pack a little and hand chances and responsibility to a few youngsters, who stepped up to the plate – with newcomer Nicole Michael providing both assists to Kgatlana.
Ellis expressed her joy at increasing her squad depth, and revealed her succession plan following a productive year.
“I think they (the youngsters) matured, and that gives us a big headache going forward because I also have a list of players I am looking at – not just locally, but abroad as well,” Ellis said.
“We are not only looking at the Olympics, but also at the 2027 World Cup. Whether I am here or not, we are looking at all those things.
“We have to make sure that some of these youngsters get more game-time before the Olympics.”
Monday’s encounter was not as straightforward as Banyana expected as the DRC provided a stiff test.
The home team were forced to weather a few storms to keep the scores level, before Kgatlana scored two vital goals.
Ellis detailed how her players and the technical team dealt with various phases of the game, which in the end saw them go through.
The need to take charge
“We knew at home that we needed to take charge of the game. Andile Dlamini made a great save in the beginning that kept us in. They had one or two half-chances, but so did we,” she explained.
“We could have gone into the halftime break with a lead, and we kept saying to the team, ‘Keep the intensity up, keep the width up and the gaps will come in between. Let’s move the ball around quicker,’ and that’s what we did in the second half.
“We made sure that we did not concede, and this was also key. I said if we don’t concede, we will create chances, which we did.”
Banyana’s next assignment will be against either Botswana or Tanzania, who are yet to play their second-leg encounter.
If Banyana advance from the third round, they are likely to battle rivals Nigeria in the fight for the right to represent Africa at the Games.