Banyana Banyana coach Des Ellis rued a poor start by her side in their 2-1 defeat to the Netherlands at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday‚ but was delighted with the way they responded against the European champions.
Banyana were 2-0 down inside 19 minutes and looked timid and nervous on the ball‚ but after Thembi Kgatlana pulled a goal back just past the half-hour mark they were arguably the better side and missed a number of chances to equalise.
The match was preparation for the Fifa World Cup in France this year and will be followed by a clash on Tuesday against Sweden at the same venue.
“We responded really well after that‚” Ellis said. “When we put the ball on the ground we played so much better‚ our pace up front was always going to trouble them and we didn’t use it enough. But we were playing against the team ranked seventh in the world and the European Champions. I was very pleased with the performance overall. There were a lot of positives so early in the year.”
Ellis was encouraged by the way her side were able to keep playing for 90 minutes‚ pointing to the 3-0 loss to Sweden this time last year as evidence of their improvement against top-tier nations.
“Last year this time we played Sweden and we folded in the second half when fatigue set in and we started making changes. This time I felt the changes we made really lifted the level of play.“We know that going to the World Cup we have to be in superb condition and to be in such good physical shape so early‚ it ticks that box.
“We want to move the ball quicker and our movement needs to be better. We have tostart better.“When you play against the top teams, they will punish you. When you play against the likes of‚ with all due respect‚ Botswana and Lesotho‚ you can get away with that. We panic a bit at times when we need to settle down.”
Ellis gave a debut to 17-year-old Khabo Dhlamini‚ who looked comfortable on the ball when she came on in the second half.
“She is a pure footballer‚ great intelligence‚” Ellis said. “We played her in a different position to what she is used to‚ but it shows the quality she has andshe can only grow from here.
“She looked like a seasoned campaigner. It’s really encouraging to see a youngster like that fit in so well.”
Netherlands coach Sarina Wiegman said there has been improvement in Banyana since the last meeting between the sides in 2016.
“It was a very good match for us to play SA‚ a very organised team. What we wanted to do was see a lot of players‚ give them minutes‚ with new combinations of players. It was very nice to play in this environment.
“They have improved their game — we played them two years ago and we could see the improvement. They have very quick players and we are not used to playing against such pace‚ so we had to adapt andthat was good for us.”
Wiegman said the team enjoyed their stay in Cape Town‚ which for them is also the start of preparations for the World Cup in June.
“What we have really enjoyed is being in a different environment to what we are used to in the Netherlands‚ which is good. We have trained quietly and not had the kind of attention we usually get. It’s been a very good experience.”