CAPE TOWN – Desiree Ellis is a practical woman. She is from the school of hard knocks, having spent the majority of her 55 years under the oppressive apartheid regime, which stole a number of her prime football-playing years.
But on Tuesday evening, as the South African national women’s team coach, she allowed herself to dream just a little bit without the fear that it may all come falling down.
She had dreaded the question all night long, but having just watched her team hold the ninth-ranked Sweden to a goalless draw, following another impressive performance this past weekend against European champions, the Netherlands, it was inevitable.
“So coach, how far do you really think Banyana can progress at the World Cup?”
With a glint in her eye, and a touch of a nervous smile, Ellis responded: “They (the players) just think that nothing can stop them and I think that confidence is not overconfidence.
“It’s just belief more than anything because if you look at the rankings, it’s a no-contest.
“If you look at Thembi (Kgatlana), she doesn’t care who is in front of her. She just feels like she can do anything and so do the rest of the players and I think that has rubbed off on the newer players.
“I think one win will get you through to the next round, because four out of the six third-placed teams go through to the next round.
“The first game is the most important one, and I think that would set the tone for the rest of the tournament.
“And then from there, on anything is possible. We’ve seen teams going to the knockout stages. Who would have thought that Croatia would get to the (men’s) final? So, we have a belief that anything is possible.”
Banyana are grouped with former champions Germany, China and Spain in a tough Pool B in what will be their maiden appearance at a World Cup in June and July.
It certainly is a tough initiation, but Ellis has reason for optimism. Banyana, ranked No 49 in the world, were the dominant team for large portions of the contest against the Swedes, and had numerous opportunities to snatch a much-deserved winner.
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And this is where the realism kicks back in. Ellis knows that for her team to have any chance of fulfilling their dreams in France, they will need to be sharper in front of goal.
“We stood up really well. We gave as good as they gave. It’s so easy we could have won that game, but I am very proud of the whole group,” Ellis said.
“The final pass at times was a bit rushed. There is that one area that we need to work on, and that is our finishing.
“If we were a little bit (more) composed in front of goal, then we would have a lot more shots on target. But we were very happy, not just with the performance, but the fitness level.”
Banyana will continue their preparations for France 2019 when they participate in the Cyprus Cup in late February, where they will face Finland, North Korea and the Czech Republic, before further friendlies against world champions the United States and hosts France.