14 August 2018– Head coach of the Sasol-sponsored Banyana Banyana, Desiree Ellis, is pleased with how the squad’s training camp has gone.
The five-day gathering kicked off on Sunday, 6 August and ended on Friday, 10 August where Ellis and her technical team took the players through their paces.
The camp was to prepare for the upcoming 2018 COSAFA Women’s Championship, which will be held in South Africa next month.
The COSAFA Women’s Championship will be used to get the squad into shape for the 2018 Africa Women’s Cup of Nations, which will take place in Ghana late in November and early in December.
The squad is expected to return to camp in the first week of September to get ready for the COSAFA, and Ellis will soon announce 20 players that will represent South Africa at the regional football showpiece.
SAFA Media sat down with coach Ellis after the training camp to get her thoughts on how things went.
SAFA Media: How did the training camp go?
Desiree Ellis: A little bit better than I expected, we haven’t been together since our AFCON qualifier against Lesotho (June). We ran a fitness test, which showed us at which level players are. The new players have come in and a few have really raised their hands, but a lot of work still needs to be done. We have sent them training programmes so they can improve their fitness levels and be ready at the next camp.
SAFA Media: So what happens between now and the next camp?
Desiree Ellis: The training programmes that we have sent out are for everyone – whether you are coming back for the COSAFA Cup camp or not, because we want to make sure that if anyone falls out along the line, and we replace them, then those coming in will be at the same fitness level. It will be monitored and it will go to the club coaches to assist. We will also try and engage Provincial Technical Officers (PTOs) to help, and when we make the final decision on our selection, we want to make sure that everybody is on the same level. In that way we also help the individual with raising their level of fitness.
SAFA Media: Do you think you got what you wanted from this camp?
Desiree Ellis: I definitely did. We have a little more work to do still because being inactive for a while means you have to refresh their memory time and again, and I think this past week has really helped us in that way. It was also good to see Kholosa (Biyana) from injury, she did really well. Sduduzo (Dlamini) was at training but couldn’t train towards the latter stages of camp due to a bout of flu, so it was unfortunate that we didn’t see her full potential, but we know what she is capable of. The young players that have come in have really raised their hands, saying even though I may be young, I am here, which has made our selection task even more difficult.
SAFA Media: How are you going to select the final COSAFA Cup squad knowing some players were not in camp?
Desiree Ellis: It is going to be very difficult, as it always is. We just have to make sure that we get the mix right in the squad of 20. We need three goalkeepers, which means the 17 in-field players have to be multi-functional and multi-dimensional, so that if someone gets injured we can play that individual in another position. We don’t need someone who is just a striker or a defender, we need all-round players because in any tournament there is an injury here or there, and if you don’t have the mix right then you are in trouble. We also have different systems and formations that we play, so we also have to get that right so that we have cover in each and every position and for us that is the most important thing, we still have a while to go so we can still go and monitor these players before we make the final decision.
SAFA Media: Are you going to have the bulk of the 2017 squad defending the title in 2018?
Desiree Ellis: We have the bulk of the squad already, but we also have new additions since that tournament last year as we have been holding national selections in the provinces and new players have come in. We are also hoping to get overseas-based players available for this tournament and that will really set the cat among the pigeons because it will make the selection more difficult but then again you always want your best players in the squad – and with the tournament so close to the AFCON it is such ideal preparations, similar type preparations that we will be playing in AFCON, and that would really help us going forward.
SAFA Media: What are the chances of the overseas-based players being available for COSAFA?
Desiree Ellis: Leandra Smeda (Lithuania) is busy with UEFA Women’s Championship qualification matches, which is huge. We are hoping she qualifies but on the other hand we would also like her to be available for us – we will see how it goes with her. The last game for the US-based players (Janine van Wyk, Linda Motlhalo and Thembi Kgatlana) is 8 and 9 September, which is very close to the start of the tournament and we are hoping they will be available as well. But we will do the necessary and decide on the mix of the team and if they are available then we will leave no stone unturned to try and get them. We are the defending champions and we want our best players in the squad. Coming to the national team you are under pressure and playing at home there is also pressure but I think the lessons of 2017, especially at COSAFA, we were behind and mental strength carried us forward. At Cyprus Cup we also played games in quick succession, the last game was against Belgium with sheer heart we stayed in the game, and mentally we are becoming tougher and stronger – and if we can apply all of those it would be great. We want to win COSAFA because you cannot want to rule Africa yet you cant win the regional tournament, and it will also give us a winning momentum which in turn will build a lot of confidence with the group that we have.
SAFA Media: Moving the dates in the COSAFA by a week, has it destabilized your plans?
Desiree Ellis: It has actually helped us to even set the bar even higher. These new dates give us more time to do more things, which will make us even better in the tournament. The new dates will give us a chance to go and check out the players before we even make the final decision on squad selection.
SAFA Media: Will you have more or less the same squad for COSAFA and AFCON?
Desiree Ellis: You want most of the players that you have in mind, but you never know when someone raises their hand, the door is always open. We need to look at the makeup of the team and see if this is what we need, because the best players must always play for the national team, and that is what we want. There is always one or two or maybe three that will raise their hand after COSAFA so the door is always open, but the big one is in November, with due respect to the region, and we want to be at our best physical shape there, and this is part of the process. As I always tell the players, you select yourself with your performance, your attitude and everything, and we will be looking very closely. We are always looking for that special player when we go around because they will add value, and besides, no one’s place is guaranteed – everybody knows they have to work very hard and coaches need to prepare properly because that is what it is all about, and we need to get that absolutely right.
SAFA Media: Your thoughts on Leandra at her new team, playing and scoring in the UEFA Women’s Champions League?
Desiree Ellis: We are very excited, Leandra has worked very hard over the last couple of years and reinvented herself, when you lease expect it, she comes up with a goal. It could not have happened to a more deserving person. She is growing as an individual, she really wants to do well and she know if she gets it right she will open the door for others and I am very happy for her. I have known her since she was 15, so we have come a long way. She has always given her best and that’s what happens when you give your best.
SAFA Media: She has played five games since arriving in Lithuania about a month ago, how good is that for the national team?
Desiree Ellis: It is very fantastic for the national team that we have players playing abroad, they can only grow from there. The experience they get from there can only add value. You look at 2016 AFCON where the Cameroon team had about 90 percent of their players playing abroad, and you look at Nigeria too, practically all their players are based abroad and they come back with that experience, which is something you cannot buy, and that is why Nigeria is ranked number one on the continent. But with more of our playing moving abroad, it can only make Banyana Banyana better.
SAFA Media: We have several players playing in professional leagues abroad, how will that help Banyana Banyana?
Desiree Ellis: It shows in the Cameroon and Nigerian teams. The level that you play internationally in when you are in these top leagues is second to none. So when they come together they just need to gel because they have played at the top level, and that helps the national team going forward and so with Leandra, Ode, Janine, Linda, Thembi playing over there, it helps the national team. But you need to get the mix right, and that is the most important thing for us at the moment. Unfortunately you can only select a certain amount players and then some players lose out, and that is unfortunate. The fact is you wont be able to please everyone, so we need to make sure we have the right players to do the job.