Do Banyana really have a prayer at the World Cup?
Performance in the recent Cyprus Cup was disappointing, but many lessons were learned in defeat
Banyana Banyana coach Des Ellis has been brutally honest about her team’s performances in the recent Cyprus Cup, where they mixed some superb football with poor play that will be punished severely at the Fifa World Cup in France later in the year.
It is hard to read too much into the three defeats and a draw suffered by Banyana in Cyprus as Ellis made numerous changes per match, offering her wider squad the chance to compete and gain international experience. As she quite rightly points out, it is hard to have a look at players at this level when, during qualifying and tournaments such as the African Women’s Championship, every game is a must-win.
So sometimes you have to have to take the knocks to move a few steps forward. The positive for Ellis coming out of the Cyprus Cup will be that she now has a much better idea about who can cut it at international level and who can’t.
Banyana’s first XI is very competitive, as they showed at the continental finals in Ghana last year and in games against Netherlands and Sweden in January.
But what Ellis, by her own admission, was less sure about was how the backup in each position could go against quality opposition. And that will be a crucial for the World Cup when injury, and possibly suspension, could take out a few of her established stars.
Ellis had gone into the Cyprus Cup talking about possibly lifting the trophy, but in the end the side finished 10th, a disappointing return.
But that does not mean it hasn’t been an invaluable experience. Ellis now knows what works, and what doesn’t work, within her squad as she looks to cut it to the 23 required for the World Cup.
Faced with a daunting pool that contains Germany, China and Spain, the biggest challenge facing the side is to cut out the individual errors that cost them so dear in Cyprus.
Banyana have shown themselves to be an astute tactically, compact and organised. When the machine is working well, they are difficult to break down, and play with intelligence and skill.
Their challenge at the World Cup will be to keep concentration and composure for 90 minutes because, as we saw at the Cyprus Cup, one error can leave them ruthlessly exposed. Defensive stalwart Janine van Wyk is an excellent leader and intelligent defender, but lacks pace.
That is not necessarily a problem when the defenders around her are doing their jobs – but when the defensive shape is lost, she can be caught out.
Banyana are among the best passing teams on the African continent. It is an important part of their game, where they rely on the counterattack and the pace of Thembi Kgatlana and Rhoda Mulaudzi.
But they have to guard against the turnover of possession too easily, especially in critical areas, and this has been an Achilles heel in recent times.
They have also struggled with high balls into the box, and a lack of height in the goalkeeper position to really take charge of the aerial balls. This is not something that will change before the World Cup – Kaylin Swart and Andile Dlamini are the two choices that Ellis has and it is probably 50-50 between who will play.
Keeping composure and stability it one thing, but it won’t win you games. If you are not clinical in the final third, it is hard to win. Banyana are a side that traditionally creates chances, but against top teams those will be fewer – and their conversion rate remains poor. Composure in the box has been a problem since readmission, not just for Banyana but all our national teams.
Kgatlana has papered over some of those cracks in recent times with a goal-glut, but she will be targeted by teams at the World Cup as the obvious danger player in the team. Others will have to step up.
The Cyprus Cup proved a disappointment, but might in the long run be of huge benefit as Ellis plots her strategy for the global finals. There are many lessons to be learned in defeat.