7 August 2023 – Their FIFA Women’s World Cup journey did not start when they played the opening match of the global tournament against Sweden, it started when Banyana Banyana beat Tunisia in the quarter-finals of the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations in Morocco last year.
The win against Tunisia secured qualification to their second FIFA Women’s World Cup and coach Desiree Ellis’ side returned to the global stage with much more experience, and it was evident on the field of play. The Sasol-sponsored team made history as they got their first point, won their first World Cup match and then made their historic maiden appearance in the knockout stages.
They were seen as underdogs in the tournament as they were the lowest ranked team in Group G, but Ellis’ charges managed to defy the odds to make it out of a group that also had Sweden, Italy and Argentina.
Asked during a press conference what she would like this team to be remembered for, an emotional Ellis said: “In 2019 (in the team’s maiden appearance on this stage in France) we knew what to expect, but we also did not know what to expect until we got there. It taught us a lesson on what we needed to do when we came back here, and I think we have shown what we learned (in 2019). Yes, there are a lot of things we could have done better but where we come from and where we play, our girls are not used to this intensity week in and week out.
“We want to be remembered as a team that lit up the World Cup, as so-called underdogs, an underdog team that plays good football but can also mix it up with the best out there. We also want to be remembered for our singing because that’s who we are and that’s what unites us and keeps us together.
“When we walked around the stadium after the match (against the Netherlands) we could see how the people appreciated what we brought to the tournament, and I believe we will be back in four years’ time bigger and better.”
Speaking about her side’s performance against the Netherlands, Ellis praised goalkeeper Kaylin Swart and also thanked millions of South Africans who have been waking up back home to watch the team.
“Before the game (against the Netherlands), we spoke about how we needed to win and score more goals. We had a lot of opportunities, especially in the first half, to kill off the game because we knew the quality side that the Netherlands are. We knew that even though we conceded at a set-piece, the chances that we created should have put us out of sight, but always if you don’t take your chances that happens,” said Ellis.
“I think our goalkeeper (Swart) had a fantastic game up until that moment (the Netherlands’ second goal) and I hope people remember her for how well she played and not for that one incident. In the end, the legs were just not there anymore for us to keep pushing for the duration of the game.
“We spoke about underdogs, but I don’t think there are underdogs any more in this World Cup because a decision or a goal here or there, we could be speaking differently, and I think the whole of South Africa should be very proud of this team. I know that they woke up very early in the morning and expected a victory, but we also played against a very good side.”
Sasol Senior Manager: Group Brand & Sponsorships Nozipho Mbatha offered encouragement to Banyana Banyana after their heroics and praised their growth as a team.
“Sasol continues to be proud of Banyana Banyana’s extraordinary achievement in this tournament. The team showed up in every match and remained committed until the very end. Regardless of the result (against the Netherlands), they braved every challenge with intention, demonstrating that they are a talented team. This team has flown the South African flag high and experienced unwavering support from millions of South Africans, one game after the other – a source of energy Banyana Banyana valued. We have witnessed your growth and excellence, and believe it will continue as you live the impossible to inspire many African girls to dream and to dream big,” said Mbatha.
There are many things that the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup will be remembered for and the Banyana Banyana team’s historic march in this tournament tops the list.
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