Desiree Ellis has revealed the secret to South Africa women’s team 4-2 victory over Nigeria as Banyana Banyana emerged champions of the maiden Aisha Buhari Cup in Nigeria on Tuesday.
The 58-year-old coach led the South Africans to a runners up spot at the 2018 TotalEnergies Women’s Africa Cup of Nations, losing to Nigeria on penalties and has now gone on to lift her first ever title on the continent in Lagos.
After a 3-0 win over Ghana, the reigning COSAFA champions wrapped up their adventure in Lagos, with a historic triumph over the Super Falcons and Ellis spoke up about her winning strategies against the West Africans.
“We have got footage of them [Nigeria] playing at the Turkish Women’s Cup, different positions, playing in the Summer Series, in different positions also watched the game against Mali and we analyzed them really well, although a few people take analysis for granted, but it has helped us,” started the former South Africa international turned coach.
“At a tournament [COSAFA Women’s Cup] last year, the analysis helped the players understood what they were up against, we knew they could go with from on set or change into two, we knew the strength of the players.
“So we made sure the players understood what they were up against, but we didn’t focus too much on that, we focused on what was information, we gave them little information about our opposition and made sure our plans were executed on Tuesday.”
The South Africans have endured a disappointing string of results against the African champions, losing six of their last 10 previous meetings since 2006, including the final of the 11th Women’s AFCON in Ghana on penalties.
However, efforts of Linda Motlhalo, Gabrielle Salgado, Mamello Makhabane and Michelle Alozie’s early own goal powered the visitors to their biggest and third win in history against their Nigerian counterparts at the six-nation invitational tournament.
And the reigning CAF Women’s Coach of the Year gave a vivid account on how she set up her side tactically to pull off an upset win.
“We were not sure about what happened for the first ten minutes, because it wasn’t in the plan, but we decided we were going to stay two-two,” Ellis continued.
“I know a lot of people expected us to play the long ball, but we wanted to be unpredictable and made sure that we control the tempo of the game, by doing that, we almost made Nigeria played the way we wanted them to play, except for that ten minutes when they bombarded us to make silly mistakes.
“But the team showed a lot of character and confidence, and when we were in control of the ball, we manage the game really well and when we were under pressure, we always knew we would get another chance and the counter attack was clinical and resulted into the penalty and that was the game itself.
“But Nigeria are fantastic team, so we just stayed on top of the game for the full 90 minutes, because we almost gave it away within that 10 minutes, but the players were just fantastic.”
On her winning formation, Ellis further said: “We played two different formations in the game, but we felt that this young lady [Refiloe Jane] took control of the game in the centre, they [Nigeria] changed their formation and we changed ours too.
“We only needed to controlled the pace of the game, and in the last 15 minutes of the match, we kept possession of the ball, we didn’t rush. So this team is growing in leaps and bounds.”
Besides claiming their biggest win, they have also won two of their last three meetings against Nigeria, including a 1-0 group stage win at the 2018 Women’s AFCON.
Despite the latest feat, the coach insists the shock triumph do not earn Banyana the best women’s team status in Africa.
“I think on victory doesn’t make you the best team, especially a victory against a team as Nigeria, who have consistently over the years shown they are one of the top teams,” she admitted.
“We can also be consistent in beating big teams and getting those victories, but we must also grow, talking about AFCON, it is our ambition to win it, we came close to it in 2018.
“Also, this victory shows to us that we are capable, but we have to be consistent in winning. You saw what happened coming from the 2019 Women’s World Cup, losing to Botswana in the Olympics qualifiers. So, we are not there, yes, we won this Cup but we are not the best yet, I think the Women’s AFCON would change it.”
South Africa will begin their quest to compete in the 2022 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations in Morocco, with a first round meeting with regional foes Mozambique in between October 18-26.
Before then, they will seek to defend their regional title at the COSAFA Women’s Cup, scheduled to hold from September 28 to October 9 in Nelson Mandela Bay, South Africa.