Ellis confident depleted Banyana have enough in the tank to beat Tunisia
Banyana Banyana coach Desiree Ellis is confident her team, despite players affected by Covid-19 and losing star striker Thembi Kgatlana to injury, can overcome Tunisia in Thursday's Women's Africa Cup of Nations (Wafcon) quarterfinal.
Banyana can reach next year's World Cup if they beat the north Africans at Stade Prince Moulay Al Hassan in Rabat, Morocco. The four semi-finalists at the Wafcon reach the 2023 World Cup, while two more from a repechage stage for the losing quarterfinalists qualify for inter-confederation playoffs.
Banyana and Nigeria, who face Cameroon in Thursday's early quarterfinal (7pm, SA time), are favourites to join Zambia and Morocco, who both qualified for their first World Cup by beating Senegal and Botswana respectively on Wednesday.
“Our first aim is to qualify for the World Cup and players know why we're here,” said Ellis, who qualified Banyana for their first World Cup in France in 2019.
“We selected the squad for every eventuality. We didn't expect this [Covid-19 cases and the Kgatlana injury] and now the versatility is going to come through.
“We've trained very well and we're looking forward to the game. We know it's going to be a difficult one like any knockout stage game is. We've got a plan in place and we've got players to execute that plan.
“It's important that we bring our 'A' game because we've seen what a good side Tunisia is. We've seen the quality that they have and we've always said that we'll never underestimate any team because you underestimate teams at your peril.”
Tunisia made it through to the last eight as one of the two best third-placed finishers from the three groups. They only won one game in Group B, 4-1 against Togo, and lost to Zambia (1-0) and Cameroon (2-0).
The winner of the Banyana-Tunisia quarter will face Zambia in the semifinals on Monday.
Ellis said she is no position to reveal any details regarding the players affected by Covid-19 but was confident she would have enough depth and numbers to put out a strong team.
“With regard to the Covid-19 situation, unfortunately our medical team is dealing with that. I cannot give you any update yet. I'm still waiting on the results [of some players] and only after that will we be able to give any update,” the coach said.
Banyana midfielder Thalea Smidt said the Covid-19 outbreak had not dampened the mood in the SA squad.
“The objectives remain the same. Yes, we sympathise with the likes of Thembi and know how important she was in the team.
“But she's a strong-minded person and she didn't want us to sympathise with her — she wanted us to carry on with our objectives we came here for. So the mood is the same.”