On Friday morning, Banyana Banyana, South Africaâ€™s national womenâ€™s football team, gathered at the Alberton Football Club for their final training session before heading to Cyprus for the 11th Cyprus Womenâ€™s Cup. This 12-team invitational tournament will be taking place from 26 February until 7 March. Banyana will be facing Hungary, Slovakia, as well as Trinidad and Tobago in Group C. This is the sixth time that the team will be taking part in the tournament.
Just a day before their departure, the South African Football Association (SAFA) announced that Desiree Ellis, who has been the interim coach of the team, would be taking up the position of the permanent head coach for the team.
In an interview with The Daily Vox, Ellis said that it was a dream come true to be appointed head coach.
â€œBut prior to that I was doing the job that Iâ€™m still doing. Itâ€™s a reality now that Iâ€™m the head coach. Iâ€™m very excited about it, going forward. Iâ€™m just grateful to the South African Football Association for entrusting me with this: the biggest job in womenâ€™s football in South Africa.â€
However, she maintains nothing will change as she has been doing the job ever since previous coach Vera Pauw stepped down. Ellis is aware of the challenge that lies ahead.
â€œItâ€™s a huge task, qualifying for the World Cup etc. but itâ€™s achievable and itâ€™s not negotiable. We just have to. I think the heartache of 2014 [World Cup], when we were very close and having so many opportunities, then maybe you realise itâ€™s not our day. But I think that will also motivate us. But more than anything players themselves want to play on the big stage so itâ€™s a collective dream of everyone involved to get to our dream of qualifying for the World Cup.â€
Ellis said that while this tournament is not something that is about winning, it will help the team to prepare for the qualifiers and the World Cup tournament.
â€œThe teams we are playing are highly ranked and will give us another opportunity to see where weâ€™re at after the Sweden game. And also an opportunity for the players to be scouted,â€ she said.
Regarding the opposition, Ellis said: â€œYou know in world football nowadays there are no small teams, but Korea DPR ranked number 11 in the world are tough opposition. I donâ€™t think we can take any team lightly because the margins are getting smaller and smaller. There are no more smaller teams around.
Ellis said, because a lot of womenâ€™s sport is not professional it doesnâ€™t get a lot of publicity and sponsorship. Sponsors need mileage to be given back in terms of results, she said.
â€œLook, with all due respect, menâ€™s football has been professional for a very long time. Womenâ€™s football is not professional at the moment. And when 2019 comes people can sit down and realise itâ€™s the same job. But you cannot compare the two,â€ she said. â€œThey also need to give the females what they are due and weâ€™ve got a lot of sponsors. They have come on board, sponsoring the players in the national team and hopefully it will get better as the team performs well.â€
Team captain Janine van Wyk told The Daily Vox the team is very excited for the tournament especially, since for some in the team, it will be their first time flying and playing in a competitive environment.
Van Wyk said this is a good building block towards qualifying for the African Cup as it will help the team to gain experience by playing such strong opponents.
â€œWe donâ€™t know much about Hungary, about Slovakia. Weâ€™ve played neither of those teams. We play Korea DPR, which we have played. Theyâ€™re very strong opponents. They ran extremely a lot,â€ Van Wyk said, regarding which team she thinks will be the biggest opposition.
However, she said she is sure they will be sufficiently prepared by the coach and team.
â€œIn the past couple years womenâ€™s football has grown a lot. A lot of people are out here supporting womenâ€™s football. Bantwana [the U-17 womenâ€™s side] have just qualified for the World Cup in Uruguay. If people support womenâ€™s football a lot, if we qualify more for major competitions such as the World Cup and Olympic Games, the sponsors will come on board and thatâ€™s how you get womenâ€™s football out there. There are young girls playing at schools, grassroot levels, and at club level. Whereas 10-15 years ago, you didnâ€™t find girls doing that. And the more we do as a national team qualifying for these major tournaments, womenâ€™s football will just explode in this country,â€ said Van Wyk regarding womenâ€™s football in South Africa.
â€œRight now we need to concentrate on development and not just have these girls playing for clubs with the boys, but also create leagues for them to play. Girls via girls, you know which will create opportunities for these girls to grow into the game and for our country as well,â€ she said.
FIFA are planning to launch a tournament that will feature the best 16 womenâ€™s national teams around the world.
Van Wyk said: â€œI think itâ€™s fantastic. Itâ€™s another opportunity for us to play and compete at a higher level. It would be similar to the tournament and it would just make teams stronger and stronger. So we have to make sure as a team, as Banyana Banyana, that we get in there and we compete at the highest level. It wonâ€™t take us as long to qualify and do well in major tournament. Itâ€™s opportunity for South African womenâ€™s football to get there and then compete.â€
SAFA president, Danny Jordan said the team would be required to qualify for the 2018 Africa Cup of Nations in Ghana, the 2019 FIFA Womenâ€™s World Cup in France, and the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. Ellis has to also ensure Banyana remain in the top two womenâ€™s teams in Africa in order to qualify for the FIFA tournament.
Featured image by Fatima Moosa