9 June 2020 – After months of trying, Banyana Banyana finally clinched a spot at their maiden FIFA Women’s World Cup.

The tournament took place across France from 7 June to 7 July 2019.

South Africa took on Spain, China and Germany – but unfortunately failed to win any of the matches and was knocked out in the first round of competition.

But it was mission accomplished as Banyana Banyana made it to the world stage for the first time ever.

Head coach Desiree Ellis, who also qualified the team for the tournament, takes a look back at the events that transpired a year ago.

I remember it as if it was yesterday.

We can’t forget the qualifying tournament, as this was when it all started. After we booked our spot for France before the AFCON final against Nigeria in Ghana, we got a video call for our President Cyril Ramaphosa to congratulate us but to also wish us well for the final.

This is a memory that will stay with all of us for a long time to come.

Fast forward to 2019:

We left for France a few weeks before the tournament started, but it only really sunk in when we moved to Le Havre (an urban French commune and city in the Seine-Maritime department in the Normandy region of northwestern France).

The welcoming ceremony was ” we are here at the 2019 World Cup”, the biggest global event in the world. This is what players and coaches strive for, and finally it was here. The attention to detail in all aspects – accommodation, training facilities, travel and playing venues was of the highest quality, certainly at a very different level to what many of us have ever experienced.

When we did the stadium familiarization of the Stade de Océane (the venue for our opening match), the game against Spain was almost upon us – and then it was match day.

When the team walked out and you looked across the stadium and saw the South African flag, it was a very proud moment for all of us, something I will never forget as it was history in the making – it felt good being a South African. When we sang the national anthem, I had goose bumps all over and this almost brought me to tears as I remembered my sister’s words “when you sing the Anthem you will tjank (cry).

This moment could have overwhelmed us but the players were absolutely magnificent and when Thembi (Kgatlana – scored Banyana Banyana’s first ever FIFA Women’s World Cup goal), I had to contain myself to stay calm. Unfortunately it did not end well as we went down to Spain.

We then moved onto Paris at Parc De Princes (home of Paris Saint Germaine). This familiarisation was the most exciting and once again we did not get a positive result against China. The next stop was Montpellier where we faced the second ranked team in the world (Germany). It was a very difficult game for us and we did not start well. We could have scored some goals in the second half but it was not to be as we got knocked out of the tournament after suffering our third loss.

It was amazing to see all the fans in the Stadium and the messages of support back home were very heart warming.

After the World Cup there was no going back, we had to show the experience gained. Everyone now looked at the team and expected more and more and that meant we had to consistently raise our game.

When you have tasted something you want it more and more.

With the experience gained by all, we have a huge task to qualify again and through the support of SAFA and SASOL, our proud sponsor, that is possible. Everything has been put on hold as we all trying to stay safe and take care of each other during this difficult time of the corona virus pandemic.

It’s so surreal, a year ago is probably the best moment for all of us but it just puts into perspective of how privileged we are representing our country day in and day out as we are putting smile on the faces on those who could be going through a very tough time.

Despite being locked down by the corona virus, the memories of 2019 in France will never fade, and it is those moments that give us hope that we shall overcome this pandemic and go back to what we are good at.

We did not get the results we wanted in France, but in terms of memories, those will be etched in our minds for as long as we live.

We shall never forget.

Desiree Ellis

Banyana Banyana head coach