Banyana Banyana

Kick Off - - Inside -

The South African se­nior na­tional women’s team made history by qual­i­fy­ing for the Fifa World Cup for the first time, as De­siree El­lis and Le­an­dra Smeda re­flect on their im­pres­sive jour­ney while pre­view­ing the task ahead.

AfterAfter 25 years of hard work, Banyana Banyana have fi­nally qual­i­fied for their first Fifa World Cup, se­cur­ing their pas­sage to the global spec­ta­cle in France af­ter their run­ners-up fin­ish at the Women’s Africa Cup of Na­tions. Track­ing their im­pres­sive progress in re­cent months which cul­mi­nated in their his­tor­i­cal feat, KICK OFF’s Zola Doda speaks to the team’s pro­tag­o­nists while also look­ing at Banyana’s chances on the world stage.

Siyaya e France be­came the South African foot­ball theme song af­ter Bafana Bafana qual­i­fied for their first Fifa World Cup in France 1998. And twenty years later, the women’s na­tional team led by coach De­siree El­lis is singing the same tune as Banyana Banyana qual­i­fied for their first World Cup, which, as fate would have it, is also be­ing hosted in France.

Banyana achieved the feat af­ter fin­ish­ing as run­ners-up to cham­pi­ons Nige­ria at the re­cent 2018 Women’s Africa Cup of Na­tions held in Ghana. Iron­i­cally, El­lis was the cap­tain of the South African team that played their first-ever of­fi­cial match against Swazi­land in May 1993, and fell well short of qual­i­fy­ing for the 1995 World Cup held in Swe­den af­ter be­ing thrashed 11-2 on ag­gre­gate by Nige­ria. Banyana lost that first leg 4-1 in Ibadan which was fol­lowed by a 7-1 drub­bing in the re­turn leg at home. Nige­ria qual­i­fied for the World Cup as CAF’s sole rep­re­sen­ta­tives, as South Africa failed to qual­ify for the next five World Cup tour­na­ments in suc­ces­sion. Yet when Banyana were drawn in the same group as Nige­ria in the 2018 Na­tions Cup, where the com­pe­ti­tion’s top three teams se­cured a World Cup berth, El­lis knew there could be no mess­ing around this time. “We knew this was the big one for us,” she says. “Al­ready at the be­gin­ning of the year we started pre­par­ing be­cause of the mag­ni­tude of the tour­na­ment. This was not just the Afcon, it was also the qual­i­fiers for the World Cup. There was no mess­ing around – we had to pre­pare well. When the pres­i­dent [Danny Jor­daan] came back from the 2018 World Cup in Rus­sia, he told us that our phys­i­cal con­di­tion­ing for this tour­na­ment will have to be top-notch, be­cause phys­i­cally it would be dif­fi­cult to com­pete with Nige­ria and Cameroon.” Banyana’s prepa­ra­tions for the con­ti­nen­tal tour­na­ment con­tin­ued in per­fect fash­ion as they over­came Cameroon in Septem­ber’s Cosafa Women’s Cham­pi­onship fi­nal as they tar­geted an im­proved per­for­mance from their fourth-place fin­ish at the 2016 Afcon. “Cosafa came and that gave us a good test,” El­lies con­tin­ues. “In 2016 when we played at the Afcon, in the first half we were good, but in the sec­ond half we stopped play­ing. This tour­na­ment showed that we are there be­cause we have im­proved a lot since 2016.” Be­fore the Na­tions Cup kicked off, Banyana trav­elled to South Amer­ica to play friendly matches against higher-level op­po­si­tion in Chile, which El­lis says formed a cru­cial

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