If coach Desiree Ellis selected her Banyana Banyana squad for their maiden Fifa Women’s World Cup based on forming the “best group instead of assembling only the best players”, then the omission of Nompumelelo Nyandeni is unpatriotic.
Nyandeni has been an integral figure in the South African national team since making her debut as a 14-year old, almost 17 years ago.
Not only does she boast an impressive CV of being one of the only five South Africans to play in the prestigious Uefa Women’s Champions League tournament during her stint with Russian giants Rossiyanka, but she’s a match away from joining the elite class of players with 150 caps for the senior national team.
But Ellis deprived her of achieving that feat on a platform that’s every player’s dream to reach, the World Cup.
In her explanation of the omission of Nyandeni, the 56-year-old coach had this to say.
“We’ve given players an opportunity to raise their hands and some did so above others. And I’d prefer that you ask questions about the players that are currently in the squad.”
Just before being handed the baton to announce her squad, Ellis had make heartfelt introductory remarks that indicated she was about to drop a bombshell.
“It’s by far the most difficult thing I’ve learnt as a coach that you can’t make people care. You cannot make them do their work with the same love, attention and detail that you choose to do yours.
“We have a total of over 1000 caps in the group with a good mix of youth and experience,” she acknowledged.
“It is very important to leave a legacy after the World Cup, and we all know that we have the Cosafa coming up as well as the 2020 Olympic Games qualifiers.
“Obviously, and without a shadow of a doubt, there’ll be some players that will be disappointed by not being in the squad but that’s the nature of the sport. I’ve not only selected the best players but the best group.”
There were, however, positives from Ellis’ squad announcement press conference at Safa House in Nasrec on Friday – as a couple of national team junior players made the cut.
Under-17s graduates Sibulele Holweni and Karabo Dhlamini, who recently played in the Fifa juniors World Cup late last year in Uruguay, are in line to now play in the main global showpiece.
But Ellis didn’t stop there in throwing the young guns in the deep end as goalkeeper Mapaseka Mpuru and Bongeka Gamede received their first call-up to the senior national team. Mpuru, who’s already played for the Under-20s (Basetsana) and will be replacing the recently retired Roxanne Barker, will play as the third fiddle to Andile Dlamini and Kaylin Swart.
“It was an agonising decision to make. I haven’t slept for days and I wanted to make sure that I got everything right and I wanted to think about the future,” Ellis said.
“But if you watch the game on Sunday (against defending champions the US), I’m sure that you saw the quality of Sibulele.”
Banyana’s run in their warm-up matches has been disappointing so Ellis’ sharpshooters will need to put on their scoring boots as early as their last friendly against Norway on June 2 in order to put up a fight in the World Cup.
Banyana are winless in eight preparations matches so far, drawing three while suffering five losses.
The South Africans are in Group B at the global showpiece alongside Germany, Spain and China, who are ranked second, 13th and 16th respectively, while Banyana are 49th.
Ellis, who’s aware that her troops will be wearing the underdogs tag, has vowed that a much-needed shift is in the offing.
“I wouldn’t say that we are not worried about results. They have been important indicators as to where we stand and now we are looking for improved performances, and believe they’re going to materialise."