Home Sport Olympic qualifiers: Desiree Ellis and Banyana not leaving anything to chance

Olympic qualifiers: Desiree Ellis and Banyana not leaving anything to chance

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Banyana have had an incredible run in recent years. They won the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations in 2022 and finished in the last 16 at the World Cup last year.

Banyana Banyana captain Refiloe Jane will not be part of the squad for the Paris Olympics qualifier against the Tanzania. Picture: Marty Melville, AFP

Having tasted the sweetness that comes with being the best team in Africa, Banyana Banyana are eager to succeed now more than ever, says coach Desiree Ellis.

Banyana have had an incredible run in recent years. They won the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations in 2022 and finished in the last 16 at the World Cup last year.

And while those two achievements were for a first, the pressure has mounted on the team to succeed whenever they compete. This includes qualifying for the 2024 Olympic Games, especially having missed out on the last edition in Tokyo four years ago.

Banyana have done well in trying to achieve that feat so far, as they breezed through the first two rounds of the qualifiers, beating the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burkina Faso.

But the hard work doesn’t end there – they’ll have to beat Tanzania in the penultimate qualifiers, away and at home, to edge closer to the promised land.

Speaking during the announcement of her 23-member squad for the qualifiers at the Southern Sun OR Tambo International Airport yesterday, Ellis backed her team to deliver given that they want to do better, always.

“The players know that when you are achieving, you always want to do more,” Ellis said. “A lot of the players don’t want to rest on their laurels.

“They want to go a step better, and that’s what it’s all about. When you are at the top, the teams that you play against become their final.

“So, we’ve got to be at our absolute best. When you’ve won one trophy, you don’t rest on your laurels, you always want to do more.”

Ellis might have named her best squad for the squad, but it was without Refiloe Jane who was withdrawn due to medical information Banyana got from her club, Sassuolo.

The Banyana captain had been sidelined for months, having sustained an injury during their World Cup campaign in Australasia late last year.

Nonetheless, Ellis is banking on other senior players such as Thembi Kgatlana, Andile Dlamini and Jermaine Seoposenwe to help the team reach the Olympic Games.

The Tanzanians, after all, will not be walkovers. It’s no fluke that they have reached this stage of the qualifiers, as they knocked out some good teams along the way, including Botswana who knocked Banyana out of the 2020 qualifiers.

“They beat Togo, who were in the last Wafcon. They also beat Botswana recently to qualify for this stage. And we all know how good Botswana is,” Ellis said.

“We are not taking anything for granted. We’ve worked on some of the things this week. We are waiting for the overseas-based players to meet us on the other side.”

Sure, the away-goals rule doesn’t work in the Olympic qualifiers, but Banyana have the slight advantage of playing the first leg in Dar es Salaam on Friday. A draw from that match would mean that they can kill off the game in Mbombela next Tuesday as they’ll have the home supporters behind them.

But despite drawing away and winning at home in the last two qualifiers, Ellis says they won’t leave any stone unturned from the outset.

“Whenever we play, we always go out for results. We don’t leave anything to chance. But we also must be aware of their qualities,” Ellis said.

“We all make sure that we get the result that we want to make the second leg easier.

BANYANA SQUAD

GOALKEEPERS: Andile Dlamini, Kaylin Swart, Katlego Moletsane.

DEFENDERS: Karabo Dhlamini, Noko Matlou, Fikile Magama, Asanda Hadebe, Lonathemba Mhlongo, Lebohang Ramalepe.

MIDFIELDERS: Kholosa Biyana, Linda Motlhalo, Nomvula Kgoale, Sphumelele Shamase, Amogelang Motau, Thalea Smidt, Lesego Nkoane.

FORWARDS: Nicole Michael, Gabriela Salgado, Noxolo Cesane, Nthabiseng Majiya, Jermaine Seoposenwe, Hildah Magaia, Thembi Kgatlana.

@Mihlalibaleka

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