South Africa head coach Desiree Ellis is anticipating a difficult group stage contest when her side square off against Nigeria in the 2022 TotalEnergies Women’s Africa Cup of Nations opening encounter in Rabat later in July.\
The seven-time COSAFA Champions were drawn against the nine-time African champions in the group stage for the fifth time at the draw held in Rabat on Friday, with first time qualifiers Burundi and Botswana joining them in Group C.
In 2018, Banyana Banyana met Nigeria in the group stage, breaking their four-game winless group stage jinx with a 1-0 triumph in Cape Coast but later lost 4-3 on penalties to the West Africans in the final following a 0-0 draw in Accra.
Although, the South Africans revenged their 2018 title loss at the Aisha Buhari Cup, where they defeated the Super Falcons 4-2 to lift the crown, Ellis insists the upcoming group stage meeting will be a ‘very difficult game’.
“Well we always knew the draw was not going to be easy. Nigeria, the defending champions and multiple winners always bring their A game and know what it takes to win,” Ellis told CAFOnline.com.
“We have played them a few times in the group stages. They have raised their levels and we have to raise our levels even higher to get a positive result. The first game is the most important game and once again we need a positive result but it will take a huge effort.
“Anything that has come before is history but it has shown us what we are capable of and has given us confidence and belief.
As I said earlier we have played them many times in the group stages and this will be no different especially with this being an opening group match which is similar to 2018.
“We will need a huge effort to get a positive result. The first game is the most important of any tournament and getting a positive result is very important but we know that it’s not going to be an easy game. Actually, it’s going to be a very difficult game.”
Besides Nigeria, the four-time WAFCON finalists will also battle debutants and COSAFA rivals Botswana, who ruined their Tokyo 2020 dream but Ellis insists her side will not be seeking any revenge against the Mares.
“Botswana from our COSAFA region and another debutants who we know a lot about, having played each other so many times,” the two-time CAF Women’s Coach of the Year remarked.
“We have not lost to them in 90 minutes in 10 meetings but we must not forget the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Qualifier where we failed to score in both matches and lost on a penalty shootout.
“We have already played them a few times after they cut short our quest to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games and have gotten good results. It’s never about revenge as it’s a totally different competition and game.
“It’s just about the next game and or next competition. We know a lot of each other and the games have been very tight and I expect this one to be no different.”
On Burundi, the former South Africa international admitted knowledge of the East Africans and has stated that she is looking forward to a good first ever tie.
“Burundi are one of the debutants but they not here by chance. We have not played them before but have seen them during the qualifiers and will have an opportunity during the tournament to see more of them as well,” she noted.
In April, South Africa started their preparations with a high-profile friendly reigning European champions the Netherlands at The Hague, where they were thrashed 5-1 but Ellis took away some positive lessons from the humiliation.
“It was important that we test ourselves both mentally and physically and more so when our Hollywood Bets Super league had not started yet,” she revealed.
“We were duly tested and at this level the small margins matters. We could have been on equal times but we missed a penalty and a one-on-one chance almost immediately after that. It showed during the game there we were just not there yet but we improved in the second half.
“It was expected that we would be tire later in the game. There is nothing that beats match fitness and it was evident in certain moments but we will get better with players getting more and more game time.”
In 2018, Ellis was named the substantive head coach guiding Banyana Banyana to their fourth WAFCON final and the Women’s World Cup for the first time.
This time, the 59-year-old tactician will set her sights on breaking the African title jinx and also guarantee a second consecutive Women’s World Cup berth.
“I have been there as a player and now as a coach and every time it’s very special. Confidence and belief are very important for us to reach our objectives,” she admitted.
“This is what we as group worked towards and we are one of 12 out of a record of 44 entries and we are truly blessed to have qualified again.
“We have to bring our best to every game and if we don’t, then we won’t get the results and could be on your way home.
“Get a good start and take it game by game as you don’t want to lose focus of the task at hand. Our main target is to qualify for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.”
South Africa will begin title bid against Nigeria on July 4 at Prince Heritier Moulay El Hassan Stadium in Rabat and take on Burundi three days later. They will go on end their group phase against COSAFA rivals Botswana on July 10.