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Ellis building Banyana’s depth


Banyana are preparing for two international friendlies against Zambia and Botswana on Friday and on Tuesday.

Thembi Kgatlana has been inspirational for Banyana Banyana. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane, African News Agency (ANA)

BANYANA Banyana coach Desiree Ellis has dangled a juicy carrot in front of the inexperienced players who are in camp with the national team and banks on the scoring prowess of in-form striker Thembi Kgatlana to help the team.

Banyana are preparing for two international friendlies against Zambia and Botswana tomorrow and Tuesday. These matches will be hosted at Bidvest Stadium in Braamfontein.

Ellis, though, has assembled a squad that’s full of local players, with Kgatlana, Amanda Mthandi and Noko Matlou, who are all based in Spain, being the only three overseas-based players. Most overseas clubs didn’t release their players due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Nonetheless, Ellis is looking at the bigger picture – considering that she’ll need to have a strong squad at her disposal later this year when they defend their Cosafa Championship title and battle in the Africa Women’s Cup of Nations qualifiers.

“It was just unfortunate that most of the clubs declined to release players due to the 10-15 days quarantine when they go back. But we also wanted to keep the relationship open with the clubs. There are more Fifa dates and other competitions that are open,” Ellis said.

“It also gives the other players in the camp an opportunity to play against a team that is further in preparations – and going to a bigger competition – and to also test themselves because we are always looking at making the core group bigger.”

Ellis added: “Look now, we have most of the overseas-based players unavailable but we can always put out a strong team. That has been key to ensure that we have the core group and bring players in, so that when the others move on, we have players that are ready.”

Zambia are using their match against Banyana as part of their preparations for the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games. The South Africans missed out on the spot to qualify for the competition in 2016 after losing to Botswana in the regional qualifiers.

Ellis bemoaned her team’s ineptitude in front of goal after losing that match in the penalty shoot-outs at Orlando Stadium in September 2019. But she hopes that Kgatlana, who’s been having a splendid season with Spanish side SD Eibar, can be the solution to Banyana’s scoring woes.

Kgatlana joined Eibar in June from Portuguese side Benfica FC. In the Spanish Primera Division, the 2018 CAF Women’s Footballer of the Year has scored 10 goals and registered five assists for the side after 20 appearances in all competitions.

“I chat with her (Kgatlana) often and I also watch a lot of the games and give feedback. I also joked with her that she should leave some goals for Banyana.”

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