Desiree Ellis urges Banyana Banyana to ‘tick Olympic box’ against Nigeria

Bambanani Mbane is one of the key experienced figures who are back from injury for Banyana against Nigeria. Picture: BackpagePix

Bambanani Mbane is one of the key experienced figures who are back from injury for Banyana against Nigeria. Picture: BackpagePix

Published Mar 28, 2024


Desiree Ellis’ heart is warm amid the availability of most of her experienced players for Banyana Banyana’s Olympic qualifiers against Nigeria.

Banyana are two games away from being one of the two teams, alongside either Zambia or Morocco, that will represent Africa in the 2024 Paris Olympics.

And after the first three rounds of the qualifiers – against the DR Congo, Burkina Faso and Tanzania – Banyana’s ultimate test couldn’t be more difficult.

South Africa will face sworn rivals Nigeria in Abuja on April 5 (6pm kick-off, SA time), before welcoming them to Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria four days later.

Banyana and the Super Falcons have forged an intense rivalry over the years, with the two teams competing for most of the continent’s top prizes.

Banyana have been reigning supreme lately, though, beating Nigeria 2-1 in the group stage of the 2022 Wafcon, a tournament they eventually won.

A lot has happened since then, though, and the two teams hoisted the African flag at the 2023 World Cup, both advancing to the round of 16.

Ellis had had some major challenges after the World Cup, missing key players for the Wafcon and Olympic qualifiers due to injuries, visa issues and exam schedules.

And with the Wafcon spot sealed, the Olympic berth is in their sights, and Ellis is more than confident that they’ll get the business done over the next two weeks.

Even though SA have lost goalkeeper Andile Dlamini to a medical issue, they have a squad that is practically at full strength, with some key players once again available for selection.

These include midfielder and captain Refiloe Jane, and defenders Bambanani Mbane, Sibulele Holweni and Bongeka Gamede, who were all out injured.

So, with Ellis set to announce her final 23-member squad for the final qualifiers today, she’s confident that they’ll come away with the necessary result, starting in Abuja.

“I’m happy we have these players back,” said Ellis, who was speaking at the team’s first training camp at the High Performance Centre in Pretoria this week.

“That warms my heart and is encouraging, because those are our more experienced players, and their experience is going to help in this situation.

“It might be hostile, and we know how passionate the fans of Nigeria are — we need that experience to get over this hurdle.

“It will be a tough match because they haven’t been in the Olympics since 2008, and their team has changed a bit since we last played them.”

Despite Banyana’s resurgence over the years – winning Wafcon and qualifying for back-to-back World Cups – their blemish has been the Olympics.

Bafana advanced to back-to-back Olympics in 2012 and 2016 under Joseph Mkhonza and Vera Pauw, but they came unstuck under Ellis in attempting to qualify for Tokyo 2020.

And it is for that reason that the four-time African Coach of the Year wants to make up for lost time and return to the quadrennial showpiece.

“Having missed out on (Tokyo) 2020, obviously it (going back to the Games) is the big box we must tick,” Ellis explained.

“Having won the Wafcon in 2022, having gone to the last 16 of the World Cup (in Australasia), this is one of the boxes that as a group we haven’t ticked.”