‘It was emotionally draining’: Banyana coach Desiree Ellis on picking the final World Cup squad

Mahlatse Mphahlele Sports reporter
Desiree Ellis, coach of Banyana Banyana during the Banyana Banyana FIFA World Cup squad announcement at Sefako Makgatho Presidential Guest House in Pretoria on 25 June 2023.
Desiree Ellis, coach of Banyana Banyana during the Banyana Banyana FIFA World Cup squad announcement at Sefako Makgatho Presidential Guest House in Pretoria on 25 June 2023.
Image: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

Banyana Banyana coach Desiree Ellis says picking the final squad for the 2023 Fifa Women’s World Cup was possibly the most difficult selection of her long career. 

On Friday, Ellis announced a strong squad of 23 players, with a blend of experience and youth, to be captained by Refiloe Jane of Italian side Sassoulo with Andile Dlamini and Thembi Kgatlana as joint deputies. 

Ellis also included striker Wendy Shongwe of University of Pretoria (UP) as the only uncapped player while goalkeeper Kebotseng Moletsane of Royal AM has only one cap.

Ellis put Regril Ngobeni and Amogelang Motau, both of the University of Western Cape (UWC), and Nthabiseng Majiya of Richmond on standby in case of injuries. 

The squad includes veterans in defender Noko Matlou, who has 167 caps, and Jane who is following her closely having represented the country on 132 occasions. 

“The past few days have been stressful, not just for me but for the players as well. But I wanted to give myself as much time as possible to make sure I got the right squad,” said Ellis, explaining she took time to settle for the final squad. 

“I waited until the last minute because I was looking for consistency and then the hard part was obviously calling the players in and telling them that they didn’t make the squad.

“They put in so much work but at the end of the day I could only select 23 and that was the hard part. I encouraged them to keep going, because there are more competitions to come and you never know what could happen. 

“We pray that nothing happens but they have to be ready if something happens. I just encouraged them to stay in touch and keep on working and make sure that when the call up comes they will be sitting on the other side and not on the same place.” 

Ellis said she had selected a team with a good balance. 

“We have players who can play at a lot of positions, you have seen Bambanani Mbane playing in a deep role at Sundowns, we have seen Bongeka Gamede of University of Western Cape (UWC) play against Australia in a defensive midfield role. 

“We have seen Tiisetso Makhubela playing right fullback at Sundowns, in the midfield I think Refiloe Jane has probably played in every position except for goalkeeper and Linda Mothlalo has played in a lot of positions. 

“Even Jermaine Seoposenwe, Hildah Magaia and Thembi Kgatkana have played in a number of positions. I watched Thembi play in one of the games as a left winger and she was wow.

“It helps in having versatility because opponents plan for something and we always have to come up with something different. When you look at 2019, we knew what to expect and we are a lot more wiser. 

“Our players are a lot more versatile, they have a lot more variety, they are better and I think that will hold us in good stead. We have worked a lot on how we want to play, we know we are good with the ball but we have also worked a lot on other things and it is coming together nicely.

“The opposition is going to analyse us and we must have something different and we are working on that.” 

Ellis had to leave some of the players out of the team and said it was emotional for her to have to do so. 

“You can’t be a coach and don’t care, I know that they put in so much work but there was someone who put in more and that is what I tried to explain to them.

“It has been taxing for me, sometimes I would wake up in the middle of the night and check on my laptop to move players and formations around just to make 100% sure. 

“It was very extremely emotional, some of them took it as motivation to go back and work harder and be better. Some of them said this is not the end of the world and that was encouraging. 

‘For some, it was for the first time they were in a position like this.” 

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