Banyana’s Desiree Ellis can erase Tokyo blemish with Paris Olympics berth

Banyana Banyana head coach Desiree Ellis

FILE - Banyana Banyana head coach Desiree Ellis. Photo: Nigel Keene/ProSportsImages/DPPI via AFP

Published Feb 19, 2024


Banyana Banyana head coach Desiree Ellis says they want to make up for lost time and qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics after missing out on the last edition in Tokyo.

Ellis named her final 23-woman Banyana squad on Monday dominated by players from Mamelodi Sundowns for their upcoming qualifier against Tanzania.

Banyana have grown in leaps and bounds under Ellis. They haven’t only been the best team in Africa but have made their mark around the globe as well. The team qualified for the World Cup for the first time in 2019, and they took lessons from that event to win the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations for the first time in 2022.

They built on that momentum to finish in the round of 16 for the first time in their second appearance at the global showpiece, in Australasia last year. But be that as it may, Ellis still has the blemish of failing to guide the team to the Tokyo Olympics four years ago after losing to Botswana in the qualifiers.

Ellis had coached at the Olympics, albeit as Vera Pauw’s assistant in 2016. So, is she under pressure to finally tick off that box as the coach this year in Paris?

“It’s never ever been about me but the team goal. It’s about the team first. If an individual gets recognition, the team did well,” Ellis explained.

“So I don’t think we have to talk about me in isolation. It’s a team goal to qualify for the Olympics, having missed out on the 2020 edition.”

Ellis is right. It’s not only about her, “there are still players who are part of the squad that missed out of the 2020 edition (as well)”, such as Refiloe Jane and Thembi Kgatlana.

But in the same breath, it’s not only about Ellis and the players making up for lost ground, it’s every player or coach’s dream to compete at the Olympics, after the World Cup.

“The World Cup is obviously the ultimate, and I think the next big one is the Olympic Games because it’s a smaller tournament,” Ellis said.

“I think that this is one competition apart from the World Cup that you want to go to and test yourself at and compete at. I think the players are focused on getting through this round and it gives us a chance in the last round of qualifying for the Olympics after missing out in 2020.”

Banyana are two rounds away from returning to the quadrennial global competition after beating the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burkina Faso in the first two rounds of the qualifiers.

In their next round, they’ll have to beat Tanzania. The first leg is at Azam Complex Stadium on Friday, while the return leg will be at Mbombela Stadium on Tuesday next week.

Banyana Banyana squad

Goalkeepers: Andile Dlamini (Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies), Kaylin Swart (JVW FC), Katlego Moletsane (Royal AM)

Defenders: Karabo Dhlamini (Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies), Noko Matlou (SB Eibar), Fikile Magama (UWC), Asanda Hadebe (Sunflower FC), Lonathemba Mhlongo (UWC), Lebohang Ramalepe (Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies)

Midfielders: Kholosa Biyana (Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies), Linda Motlhalo (Racing Louisville), Nomvula Kgoale (TS Galaxy), Sphumelele Shamase (UJ), Amogelang Motau (UWC), Thalea Smidt (Tuks Ladies), Lesego Nkoane (TS Galaxy)

Forwards: Nicole Michael (TS Galaxy), Gabriela Salgado (JVW FC), Noxolo Cesane (UWC), Nthabiseng Majiya (Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies), Jermaine Seoposenwe (Monterrey), Hildah Magaia (Mazatlan FC), Thembi Kgatlana (Tigres UANL).

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