Desiree Ellis has chosen to look at the bright side despite a draw against Botswana. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix
Banyana Banyana captain Refiloe Jane and coach Desiree Ellis have chosen to look at the positives from their underwhelming trip to Botswana.

Banyana started their 2020 Tokyo Olympics qualifying campaign with a goalless draw against Botswana on Friday night. They will host the return leg on Tuesday at Orlando Stadium.

This wasn’t an ideal start in Banyana’s first major test since appearing in the Fifa Women’s World Cup for the first time in France earlier this year.

The subsequent Cosafa Women’s Championship was a reasonable challenge but it wasn’t that tough with the team playing on home soil. They made light work of their southern African neighbours to win the trophy for a third successive time.

They were expected to continue on that note with a bright start against Botswana in their attempt to qualify for the Olympics for the third time in a row.

“We knew that it wasn’t going to be easy,” Jane said.

“But we take positives from this game. We didn’t lose, and we also didn’t concede a goal.

“We now have to wait for the second leg at home. It’s not going to be easy, but one of us has to qualify for the next round. We are going there to make sure that it’s us who go through.”

The clash with Botswana was Bambanani Mbane’s 50th cap for the senior women’s national team. She helped the team keep the clean sheet against Botswana, which will give them confidence going into the second leg.

These Olympic qualifiers are a transition period for Banyana with a number of experienced campaigners in the twilight of their careers. This will open doors for the next generation who have been given a chance to stake claims as top national players.

Ellis’s team included the young, talented Noxolo Cesane, who was a revelation at the Cosafa tournament and even received a hero's welcome when she arrived back home in Cape Town.

“It was a battle out there,” Ellis said.

“We knew that they would be a threat on the counter. The pitch didn’t suit our style of play, and we had to adapt.

“The big factor is that we didn’t concede, which is important. We knew that it was going to be a tough game. They came out and they gave us a hard time.”

Banyana are likely to face Zambia in the second round of qualifiers after they annihilated Zimbabwe 5-0 in the first leg in Lusaka. Banyana beat Zambia in the Cosafa final in what was the Copper Queens’ first podium finish in the tournament.

This year’s qualifiers for the Olympics have a different twist. They are more rigorous and tougher than previous years when Africa had two automatic places. This time around they have only one guaranteed slot and a play-offs spot against an opponent from South America.

But before they can think that far ahead, they have to get past Botswana in Orlando first.

“We will go back and look at the footage and see what we can do better,” Ellis said.

“In certain moments we didn’t rotate the ball quick enough. And when we did create the half chances, we didn’t convert. Football is about scoring goals so we have to work on that. We also have to make sure that we protect the ball more, that’s extremely important for us.”

Sunday Independent