Picture: Banyana Banyana celebrate after qualifying for the FIFA Woman’s World Cup. (Picture Twitter)
Janine van Wyk was in tears and Noko Matlou just hugged head coach Desiree Ellis and said: “We did it!”
The emotion was palpable and totally expected. This is the first time ever that South Africa’s women’s football team, the now victorious Banyana Banyana has qualified for the FIFA Women’s World Cup. It’s a dream come true!
“Janine Van Wyk was practically in tears, Noko Matlou just really hugged me and said coach we did it, coach, we did it,” head coach Desiree Ellis said after South Africa’s historic 2-0 victory over Mali in the semi-finals of the Africa Women Cup of Nations on Tuesday in Ghana.
Just two days before, Ellis had told the media there was no way the team couldn’t win the semi-finals. “It is non-negotiable,” she said.
After the match that resulted in a victorious Bafana Banana team on Tuesday, Ellis said: “I was speaking to Mamelo Makhabane the other day and she was saying that she has never been part of a team that has beaten Nigeria and here she is. Van Wyk has been with the team for a very long time. Leandra Smeda, Refiloe Jane… I saw the tears tonight, it was really worthwhile.”
An Historic First for Banyana Banyana
Banyana Banyana have qualified for the FIFA Women’s World Cup (to be staged in France 2019 June) for the first time ever, with Ellis becoming the first coach to seal a World Cup qualification spot for the South African Senior Women’s Team.
Two decades ago, in 1998, Banyana Banyana also qualified for their first ever World Cup which was also in France.
Ellis who said she couldn’t describe how she was feeling in words, said the Banyana Banyana victory was for the whole of South Africa – for the wonderful support the country has given her side.
The tweets, the good luck messages, believing in us.
Ellis, who captained Banyana Banyana during her playing days, is only the second South African-born female coach to help a national side qualify for the global showpiece. And, significantly it was after Simphiwe Dludlu had led the U-17 South African Women’s team in Uruguay recently.
“It started at the beginning of the tournament where we said we needed to win the first game. We believed that we could. The players were magnificent in that game and they haven’t stopped being magnificent. They stuck to the game plan and stuck true to what we do, which is putting the ball on the ground. So it’s just a wonderful victory for everyone involved in women’s football,” said Ellis.
The senior players who have been part of Banyana Banyana for years tried to qualify over the years but came up short knowing that this was probably their last chance to qualify for the World Cup. They included the likes of Janine van Wyk, Noko Matlou, Leandra Smeda, Nompumelelo Nyandeni, Mamello Makhabane and Nothando Vilakazi.
Ellis, who is also the record holder for winning the Cosafa Cup as a player and coach, said the senior players put a lot of effort and energy into this campaign. They knew that we had a chance this year, but they also knew they needed to bring their A game. And they knew they needed to be the ones to rise and lift the other players, newer players that came in, and they certainly did.
Banyana Banyana avoided what for some seemed like an inevitable play-off in the third/fourth this time around, which is what happened when they lost the last two editions of the Africa Women Cup of Nations.
“We were always sure that we could do it in this match (against Mali). We didn’t want to leave it to chance for the third/fourth place playoff. We have been there before and we wanted to make sure that we got the job done. It’s an absolutely amazing feeling,” she said.
Will Banyana Banyana Continue to Make History?
The victorious Banyana Banyana team have an opportunity to make history again when they face Nigeria in the final of the Africa Women Cup of Nations on Saturday. But Ellis says they have already achieved their dream – their goal, which was to qualify for the World Cup. Winning the Africa Women Cup of Nations for the first time will be a bonus.
“Physically the body is tired but the team can still raise their levels. Nigeria have got better as the tournament has gone on. If we want to be champions we will have to raise our levels even more,” a jubilant Ellis said.