Ellis blends youth and experience for Nigeria clash

Coach Desiree Ellis during Banyana training at Mbombela Stadium last month. | BackpagePix

Coach Desiree Ellis during Banyana training at Mbombela Stadium last month. | BackpagePix

Published Mar 31, 2024


BANYANA Banyana coach Desiree Ellis has reflected on her final 24-member squad that will face rivals Nigeria in the 2024 Paris Olympic qualifier.

Banyana are set to fly out to Nigeria today where they’ll face the hosts in the first leg of the final qualifiers on Friday before hosting them in Tshwane next Tuesday.

The South Africans have been hard at work this past week, starting with their preparations camp at the High-Performance Centre in Pretoria.

The camp included players who were in the preliminary squad and local-based players, as the overseas bunch are still busy with domestic football.

Ellis wanted to see a lot from her troops and held off on announcing her final squad last Thursday, as initially scheduled.

Announcing the final 24-member squad yesterday, Ellis explained why she pushed back the deadline day and selected an extra player as well.

“We know that it’s going to be a tough battle. We made sure that we have a squad that can face any eventualities,” Ellis explained.

“We added an extra player in the squad that will travel with us. We’ve pushed the announcement from Thursday to Saturday. There was a reason for that.

“We want to give players a fair chance, but we want to make sure that we get things right. This is not just any game, but to qualify for the Olympics.”

Ellis is right. She needs to have her best players at her disposal if they are going to get the better of the Super Falcons over the two-legged tie.

So far she has her best players, with the only blemish to the team being the withdrawal of goalkeeper Andile Dlamini for medical reasons.

Captain Refiloe Jane, Bambanani Mbane, Bongeka Gamede and Sibulele Holweni are all back in the team after injuries.

The quartet bring a much-needed experience to the team, which has had to rely on a youthful set-up and change in formations in recent matches.

“There’s one thing that you can never buy – and that’s experience. But it only helps when it adds value, when it doesn’t it’s just that,” Ellis said.

“But they've been there, in tough situations. They’ve been there when things were not okay, and they stood up (to the challenge).

“But we also have that enthusiasm of youth, and that is what will help us get things right. Getting that mix right… is what was important.”

The late arrival of the overseas players from their respective countries directly to Nigeria could be seen as a spanner in the works with regard to Banyana preparations.

But Ellis thinks otherwise. That most of the players in the team know each other very well augurs well for their preparations.

“Some of them are joining on different days – that is unfortunately due to the Fifa dates only starting on the 1st. Some are still playing,” Ellis said.

“But it has happened in the past where players come at a different time. So, we just need to manage that. Make them understand what it is that we want to do.

“The advantage that we have is that most of them have played together for a long time – be it with each other or against each other.”

“They know each other and the qualities that the players around them have. I think that will help us have a little bit more time.”

Full squad:

Goalkeepers: Kaylin Swart, Regirl Ngobeni, Katlego Moletsane

Defenders: Bambanani Mbane, Noko Matlou, Bongeka Gamede, Lebohang Ramalepe, Karabo Dhlamini, Fikile Magama, Tiisetso Makhubela, Lonathemba Mhlongo

Midfielders: Refiloe Jane, Sibulele Holweni, Linda Motlhalo, Sinoxolo Cesane, Nomvula Kgoale, Nonhlanhla Mthandi, Amogelang Motau

Strikers: Thembi Kgatlana, Jermaine Seoposenwe, Hildah Magaia, Gabriela Salgado, Noxolo Cesane, Nthabiseng Majiya.