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Banyana deserves this

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The South Africans booked their ticket to the 2019 Fifa Women’s World Cup in France courtesy of a 2-0 victory over Mali in the Africa Women’s Cup of Nations semi-finals.

Desiree Ellis coach of South Africa celebrates during the 2018 TOTAL African Womens Cup of Nations semi final match between South Africa and Mali on the 27 November 2018 at Cape Coast Stadium, Ghana / Pic Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix

After defying the odds and leading Banyana Banyana to their maiden World Cup tournament, coach Desiree Ellis has refused to take all the credit for her team’s success, insisting it took a collective effort.

The South Africans booked their ticket to the 2019 Fifa Women’s World Cup in France courtesy of a 2-0 victory over Mali in the Africa Women’s Cup of Nations (Awcon) semi-finals in Ghana on Tuesday.

“It’s never about me but it’s been about the group of players and the team,” Ellis said. “They always come first and the rewards that come with it are a bonus. You are in the job to make a difference. I never had an opportunity to go to the World Cup or the Olympics (as a player) but I can proudly say that as a coach, I am an Olympian and will be in the World Cup.”

Its been a great run for Banyana under the guidance of Ellis, who took over the reins permanently nine months ago, having previously served for 18 months as interim coach after the departure of Dutchwoman Vera Pauw.

In August 2017 Ellis led Banyana to the Cosafa Cup title in Zimbabwe to become the first player and coach to achieve the feat.

Banyana successfully defended their title this year in Port Elizabeth.

At the recent SA Sports Awards they bagged the Team of the Year award, while earlier in the year they scooped the Caf Team of the Year gong.

“When I was interim coach for a year-and-a-half and people kept asking me, ‘how do you work?’ I said to them that if you are an acting CEO then you can’t do half a job but you’ve got to work, work and work,” Ellis said. “I just wanted to make sure that I do the best I can.

“If I wasn’t going to be the coach, but make sure that the team is in good shape for someone else, I was already planning ahead. And here we are, heading to France, so it’s been an incredible year and I am really grateful.”

Banyana have reached the semi-finals of the last two Awcons, but on both occasions they were outmuscled by Nigeria. And they lost to Ivory Coast and Ghana in the third place play-off.

Enter Ellis.

Banyana opened this tournament by beating the defending champion Super Falcons. After topping Group B, where they also beat Equatorial Guinea and drew with Zambia, the Malians were no match for SA in the semi-finals.

“We analysed Mali very well because we knew that they have good players,” said Ellis.

“We also strategised to put Bambanani (Mbane) on the striker (Bassira Troure) who was really dangerous, and she was really magnificent. We made sure that we didn’t give them an opportunity and we were in control of the game.”

Banyana will face the Super Falcons in the final on Saturday at Accra Stadium (6pm kick-off).

Mihlali Baleka