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Once Again, Desiree Ellis Proves to be Super Falcons Kryptonite

Wednesday, 6 July 2022

/ by Colin


South Africa forward Thembi Kgatlana flies over Nigeria goalkeeper Tochi Oluehi in their opening match of the CAF Africa Women Cup of Nations. South Africa won 2-1


- Kufre Ekpe

Desiree Ellis proved that she is the Super Falcons kryptonite when she masterminded a third win in four games against the reigning champions for the second consecutive opening game of the Africa Women Cup of Nations.

It was the same occurrence forty-four months ago at Ghana 2018. But this particular concept has a second part, and that would be a Morocco 2022 final match-up between Nigeria and Banyana Banyana, ending in a win for the former, just like it happened in Ghana.

But that is history that Ellis, a former player herself who suffered multiple defeats against Nigeria, is planning against. She says a lot has changed though for her girls since they last played the Super Falcons at the WAFCON four years ago. “We know what happened in 2018, but we have matured over the past four years and there are changes in our team,” Ellis said after the win.

Noone can agree more. These ladies are more developed, experiended, tactical, motivated and hungrier. With these, the scepticism of many who think it will not be easy-peasy for the nine-time African champions shouldn't be waved aside.

All of these come down to South Africa's investments in the beautiful game over the last few years. In the past, they have always played second fiddle to their Nigerian counterparts. The hope is that this is the year they conquer Africa. Ellis has handled the team since 2016, and her great knowledge of the women's game has developed South African football. The results are vastly seen in how Banyana Banyana have closed the gap on other power houses, in efforts, results and tactics.

The women's league in South Africa is one of the few best administered in Africa. The returns were seen in the inaugural CAF Women's Champions League title lifted by the Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies in 2021.

Regionally, they have won seven of the nine COSAFA Women's Championships. Continentally, the South African ladies have finished second on five occasions. Globally, they have been to two of the last three Olympics and played at the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup - their first and only participation, so far.

Just last year at the Aisha Buhari Cup in Lagos, they became the first African side to condemn the Falcons to their heaviest defeat, a 4-2 win.
 


PURPOSEFUL FROM KICKOFF

The South Africans started with all intent and purpose, putting the Falcons on the back foot from the start of the game. They served watchers a tip of the iceberg of what is to come when Nigeria conceded two corner kicks in three minutes and rendered them second best all through the first half. Overall, South Africa won the game from almost all fronts - successfully playing out from the back many times, sharply exchanging passes, quick and confident link ups between the defence and midfield, fast recoveries to deny the Nigerians time and space, GK Andile Dlamini's assured commanding of her box, and of course the two quick goals executed with aplomb and clinicality.

The margin of difference in the average ages of the teams should quickly extinguish any argument that a youthful South African side versus a set of Nigerian old legs is the cause of how dominant the match was for the winners. The average age of South Africa's starting line up was 27.5 years compared to 29 for Nigeria. So, what went wrong? Tactical superiority? Bad selection by Randy Waldrum?



TACTICAL SUPERIORITY

Coach Ellis perfected South Africa's dominance through her stand-in captain, Jane Refiloe, who plays for AC Milan in Italy and WOTM Linda Motlhalo, who plays in Sweden for Djurgardens IF. Both ran the show in the middle as defensive and offensive midfielders respectively, and took advantage of their ineffective and incohesive opposites, Halimatu Ayinde and Rita Chikwelu.

Refiloe and Motlhalo's intricate and subtle passes, mostly short, consistently took Chikwelu and Ayinde out of their game and cut them napping most times. This was evident in South Africa's second goal.

Joining the mix to knock the wind off the 2018 champions' sail were Nixolo Cesane and Hildah Magaia. They were breezy and purposeful in movement. They constantly stretched the Nigerian back-line. Cesane was a class act. Nifty and nimble. Leicester's Ashleigh Plumptre, with all her best efforts in the game, was hard done by the 21-year-old's skills. Cesane and Magaia combined beautifully to provide Jermaine  Seoposenwe the assist for the first goal

BIG WIN

Seoposenwe's goal sent Ellis on her knees in celebration. The ex-Spurs Ladies (SA) coach said in the post-match press conference that “This is a very big win for us as a team. We needed to get this result because it sets the tone for the rest of the tournament. We had a meeting before we started training to talk about our goals and ambitions. We want to qualify for the World Cup and win the title here.” Such is the magnitude of South Africa’s second win over Nigeria in the past 10 months.

This was an intentional win for South Africa. Could it be the beginning of the dominance of the Super Falcons in African women's football? Have the South Africans become potential champions? Will this win generate far-reaching consequences on the game in Africa? Will it inspire more development of the women's game on the continent?

Interesting days ahead for African women's football. 


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