Desiree Ellis: Banyana hurting badly after Nigeria Olympic qualifier defeat

Banyana captain Refiloe Jane (right) and Lebohang Ramalepe slide in to tackle Nigeria’s Rasheedat Ajibade at Loftus Versfeld on Tuesday. Photo: BackpagePix

Banyana captain Refiloe Jane (right) and Lebohang Ramalepe slide in to tackle Nigeria’s Rasheedat Ajibade at Loftus Versfeld on Tuesday. Photo: BackpagePix

Published Apr 11, 2024


Banyana Banyana coach Desiree Ellis struggled to put into words their disappointment at missing out on qualification for the Paris Olympics this week.

Banyana lost 1-0 on aggregate to Nigeria in the two-legged final qualifier for the Olympics after losing 1-0 in Abuja in last Friday’s first leg, before drawing in Pretoria in the second leg.

Fresh from the goalless draw in the capital on Tuesday night, Ellis cut a dejected figure in the bowels of Loftus Versfeld in her post-match duties.

Ellis folded her arms and leaned towards the table, while her teary red eyes flinched at the media corps who packed the Loftus auditorium.

She tried to not to blink as much as she could while answering questions, as failure to do that could have seen tears roll down her cheeks on the night.

Ellis had ample reason to be dejected. The masses had come out in numbers to brave the chilly weather and rally behind the team.

After all, Banyana had been a source of joy for the football fraternity in recent times, winning the Wafcon and qualifying for back-to-back World Cups.

So, that’s why the Olympics wouldn’t have only been a crowning moment for the team and Ellis, but another milestone for women’s football in the country.

“It’s difficult to explain because from the expectations that we have from not only ourselves, but the rest of the country, we feel like we disappointed everyone,” she said.

“We knew that if we had scored one goal, we might have scored the second. We were the team in the ascendancy, and we knew they’d play long balls.

“I don’t think you can explain (the) disappointment. It’s difficult. But you hurt so badly that you (suddenly) don’t know what to say.”

Having failed to qualify for the last edition of the Olympics in Tokyo in 2021, Ellis and her troops wanted to make up for lost time at the Paris showpiece.

But it wasn’t to be. And that will haunt the team for a while, given that the next edition of the Olympics will only be in four years’ time in Los Angeles.

By then there’s no telling whether the bulk of the team, which has overcome a lot of adversity together, will still be together.

The oldest player in the team, Noko Matlou, for instance, will be 42 years old for the 2028 Olympics, making it unlikely that she would still be playing football.

— Banyana_Banyana (@Banyana_Banyana) April 10, 2024

To make things worse, Ellis’ future with the team also remains uncertain.

Should Ellis remain in the hot seat for the foreseeable future, she’ll have to make a lot of changes – in Banyana players and style of play.

The negative body language of Banyana players in both legs against Nigeria suggested that some of the players have reached a ceiling in their international careers.

And that’s not all. The over-reliance on experienced players such as Refiloe Jane, who walked back into the team after a long lay-off, doesn’t seem to have worked.

With the team also banking on Thembi Kgatlana for runs and goals up front, that seems to be working against the team at times as opponents close her down.

Ellis knows that they can’t keep doing the same things if they are to evolve as a team. Hence, she’ll work around the clock to find working formulas.

“We’ll continue to do what we need to get better. It’s important. We will continue to bring in new players – the pipeline is there,” Ellis explained.

“We’ll then look at what’s the next step for us and prepare for that – who we are going to bring in for that. But it’s important that we have continuity.”