WATCH: Banyana Banyana coach Desiree Ellis knows what’s at stake in crucial Wafcon qualifier

Desiree Ellis, coach of South Africa during the WAFCON Qualifiers 2024 South Africa South Africa Team Announcement at the SAFA House, Johannesburg

Banyana will start their bid to defend their African title against Burkina Faso in the last round of the qualifiers, according to coach Desiree Ellis (pictured). Picture: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

Published Nov 24, 2023


Banyana Banyana coach Desiree Ellis says they won’t leave any stone unturned in their Women’s Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Burkina Faso, considering what’s at stake.

Banyana are the reigning African queens. They won their first crown in Morocco last year to take positives to this year’s Fifa World Cup, where they finished in the last 16.

Banyana will start their bid to defend their African title against Burkina Faso in the last round of the qualifiers. The first leg is in Yamoussoukro in Ivory Coast on Thursday next week.

And in ensuring that they get a positive result there, Ellis named a strong 24-member squad – which will be trimmed down to 23 before they travel – at Safa House in Nasrec, Johannesburg on Friday.

Beefing up their players stocks

She named the extra player in case of eventualities such as visa issues, exams and injuries, something that has kept Bambanani Mbane and Refiloe Jane out of the team since the World Cup.

“It’s very important that we keep the momentum going. It’s not just any match, it’s a final qualifier for Wafcon,” the record-breaking 60-year-old coach said.

“As I said, we are the defending champions, so if we don’t win this game, we won’t be at the tournament. We must make sure that we do well in the first leg to take off the pressure.”

Ellis knows all about the importance of winning the first leg convincingly, as they had to beat the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in the return leg of the 2024 Olympic qualifier after the first leg ended 1-1 away to progress to the next round.

And with the away-goals rule now applying in the Wafcon qualifiers, Ellis wants to make their qualifying campaign as seamless as possible by starting on a high note.

“It can work either way,” said Ellis on whether playing away in the first leg will give them an advantage going into the return leg in Pretoria on December 4.

“Playing at home in the second leg, there’s a lot of pressure. This time around, the away-goals rule counts. But we are confident that we can get results in both games.”

Ellis has ample reason to be confident. She boasts four players from the Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies team that won the CAF Champions League crown on Sunday.

Quality in depth

Andile Dlamini, Karabo Dhlamini, Kholosa Biyana and Lebogang Ramalape were part of the team that made history in Korhogo, Ivory Coast.

And while some feel that Ellis could have raided Sundowns to ensure Banyana have more depth – the players know the continent and Ivory Coast – she’s happy with the quadruple.

“Selections are never easy. It becomes more difficult and difficult, with players raising their hands all the time,” the former Banyana midfielder said, before lauding Sundowns’ exploits.

“We have to get the mix right ... we have to get the combinations right. The experience of Sundowns players playing in Africa will hold us in good stead.”

Ellis also wants Banyana to be at their best to help former skipper Janine van Wyk claim the record of becoming the most-capped player, both male and female, on the continent.

Plans were afoot to hand Van Wyk that record in the Olympic qualifiers, but after being sidelined in the DRC, she stormed out of the camp before complaining on social media.

However, it seems Safa, Ellis and Van Wyk have all smoked the peace pipe as she made the 24-member squad expected to carry Banyana to the Wafcon finals in Morocco next year.

Van Wyk (183) trails Egypt’s Ahmed Hassan by a single cap, and she could ascend the throne of African football with appearances against Burkina Faso at home and away.

“We’ll do our utmost best for her to get these two caps. It’s not just a record for her, but for women’s football in the country, for Safa and women’s football on the continent,” Ellis said.

“Yes, she was in the previous camp and I was asked the question by the media about whether there would be another opportunity, and I said yes, there’ll be an opportunity – and Burkina Faso is the opportunity.”