Though she may not admit it publicly, Banyana Banyana coach Desiree Ellis would rather be playing Cameroon in the 2018 AWCON final, as opposed to Nigeria. And you can't really blame her because she has had a long tortured relationship with the West Africans, both as a founding member of 'The Girls', and then as a young coach. in fact, technically speaking there are many who argue that she may actually know the Nigerian team even better than their Swedish coach Thomas Dennerby.
After losing to Nigeria in the semi-final of the 2016 AWCON in Cameroon she walked up to the Falcons trio of coaches consisting of Florence Omagbemi, Ann Chiejine, and Pepertua Nkwocha and interrupted their celebration to offer her congratulations. She also acknowledged then that her team had made a few mistakes, none so much more damaging than one of her strikers running into an offside position and negating what would have been the South African go-ahead goal in the middle of the first half.
Finally, before she walked off to console her dejected wards she also promised, or better still, warned the Nigerians that such lapses would never happen again. So here we are, circa two years later, and while Omagbemi, Chiejine, and Nkwocha have incomprehensibly all been purged by Pinnick, despite winning the trophy then in Cameroon, SAFA stuck with Ellis and she is now rewarding their faith with continuous top-notch performance.
Ellis and Omagbemi hugging during the 2016 AWCON semifinal
In addition to this, after the deplorable final in 2000 between the two powerhouses which had to be abandoned because South African fans threw bottles and other objects at match officials and at the Nigerian players after Nigeria had taken a 2-0 lead midway through the second half, she certainly will also be looking at this game as some form of redemption and to put that bad memory permanently to rest.
Ellis as a player in action against Nigeria
In what will arguably be her biggest game to date as a coach, she is brimming with confidence ahead of the cracker and is not mincing words when talking about her team's chances of beating Nigeria. Coming to think of it, she is actually sounding rather bullish.
For starters, the former midfielder and Banyana captain has promised the unveiling of a brand new formation that according to her, will leave Nigeria stumped and unable to unlock during the 90 minutes of play. Speaking at a South African media event, also attended by Awareness Sports, she insisted that while she is obviously ecstatic about qualifying for the 2019 World Cup in France, the bigger cherry and greater prize for both her, her country and her players, would be to be crowned African champion for the first time. Smiling she also said, it would also be double gratifying if it were to come at the expense of Nigeria - her previous nemesis.
While she would not reveal the full details of this new potent 'formation', she made it clear that she would depend heavily on her strikers, putting to bed any notion that the team from the Rainbow nation would play conservatively in Accra.
This is leaving many a pundit scratching their heads because an open game would technically favour Nigeria whose game plan depends upon covering the space from defense to attack very quickly. When the Falcons play very well there is hardly any transition between the two. A reason why Banyana has normally crowded the midfield with an extra man or even two and denied the known speedsters of the desired room to operate in. So this must be music to the ears of the Naija birds. Of course, this could also be just a smoke screen and they are actually aiming to do the exact opposite.
In any case, despite losing the services of her vice-captain Refiloe Jane, who had to return to her club in Australia because of a previous engagement, the coach today is not just optimistic, but borderline sure of victory.
Come Saturday we shall all see if her confidence was justified.