Banyana have it all to play for

Opening game with Spain a huge chance for Banyana

Banyana Banyana will play their opening game of the Women’s World Cup against Spain on Saturday.
Banyana Banyana will play their opening game of the Women’s World Cup against Spain on Saturday.
Image: Gallo Images/ Anesh Debiky

Desiree Ellis has urged her Banyana Banyana side to stay focused and stick to the gameplan ahead of Saturday’s Fifa Women’s World Cup opener against Spain‚ where a positive result will bring hope that they can make it out of a difficult group.

Ellis says they have been meticulous in their planning for the tournament‚ and for their first opponents, at Stade Océane‚ Le Havre.

She said now it is up to the players to execute in the way they have trained‚ and not allow the nerves to get the better of them.

“We want to make sure through all of our training that players understand what it is they have to do on the field because it is now all about them‚” Ellis said.

“We have a plan‚ obviously‚ and during training we are trying to make them understand that.

“Hopefully we can use our strengths. But in that same way that we are analysing Spain‚ they are obviously analysing us.

“At our previous game [a 7-2 loss to Norway] they [Spain] had a whole entourage of people – I think there were about 10 of them.

“We have come here to make our mark. We know we are in a difficult group‚ but this team knows what it is capable of and they need to play to their true potential and show their quality.

“If each and every one understand their roles, we will get off to a good start.”

Ellis was captain of Banyana when they played their first international in 1993‚ and now leads the SA Women’s team on their first appearance to the game’s greatest stage as a coach.

It is a massive moment in the country’s football history and comes after much heartbreak in qualifying in the past.

Ellis said the players must do their best for the team‚ but also recognise what a big moment it is for them personally.

“I am excited for the players. It was a long‚ hard task qualifying for the World Cup‚ but it is their time to shine now. It is all about the players‚ it is their big stage. The whole world will be watching.

“It is up to them to put up their hands and put their best foot forward, because this could open up huge opportunities for them.

“Once they step on to that field‚ it is about fighting for the country‚ badge and everyone who didn’t have the opportunity‚ and they know that.”

Spain won all eight of their World Cup qualifiers and are a side on the rise‚ who many have tipped as dark horses for the title.

It was a long‚ hard task qualifying for the World Cup‚ but it is their time to shine now

Banyana, having failed to win in 10 matches since qualifying last November, are the clear underdogs.

They last won a game when they defeated Mali 2-0 in an African championship semi-final seven months ago, through goals from star striker Thembi Kgatlana and Lebogang Ramalepe.

But after securing a World Cup place for the first time, the team has drawn four matches and lost six while scoring only eight goals and conceding a worrying 24. Germany (ranked second in the world), Spain (13) and China (16) are expected to fight for two or three places in the second round with South Africa the clear outsiders in Group B.

However, Ellis refuses to accept her squad are lambs facing the slaughter in a competition where African teams have traditionally struggled.

“It certainly is not going to be easy for us, and the first match against Spain is vital. They are used to playing at a higher level than us.

“Spain like to play the ball around and so do we, so the team that craves victory the most is likely to win the match.

“I can assure South Africans that my players will never give up. While our build-up results have been disappointing, the wonderful spirit in the camp has never wavered.” – Additional Reporting from AFP

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