South Africa braced for must-win game against Italy

Banyana Banyana face a do-or-die must-win clash against Italy in Group G at the Women’s World Cup on Wednesday as victory will likely send them into the round of 16.

After two strong performances have yielded only a point so far, coach Des Ellis has urged her players to stand up to the challenge. She spoke to the media ahead of the game.

What is the latest with captain Refiloe Jane’s injury and has she been able to provide good insight into the Italian team?
Refiloe as a soft tissue injury and we will wait until the very last minute before we make a final decision on her. Of course, her knowledge (of Italy) is very valuable, she’s played there for a while now and one of her (Sassuolo) teammates is playing an Italian team as well. So the information she has given has been very, very useful. And we have used a lot of that, but also our own analysis to also profile the team and hopefully our plan will come together tomorrow.

Do you feel like you have adequate cover for her if she cannot play?
Look, we’ve got a very multifunctional and versatile team with players that have played in those positions before. We’ve worked on something and put players in those positions and trained with that on a couple of times and it’s looking pretty good. But it’s all got to come together in the game of course. It’s easy training, but when the pressure is high, that’s when they need to stand up. So we’ve got a contingency plan.

What do you need to do better against Italy than the past two matches?
We know we’re a team that can create, we’ve proven that. It’s about taking our chances, but also about being better organised. Especially in the critical moments, I think we need to be better and that and goes for the whole team, not just for the defence. But the whole team’s got to play their part. When players go onto the pitch and get instructions … sometimes there’s a rush to the head to do certain things when someone’s not in position. But we can’t fault them for effort. That is the one thing that we say, when you come off the field, you have no regrets and you have given all that you could give. But we need to be better in critical moments. We’ve worked a lot on that as well. Hopefully it all comes together tomorrow.

You narrowly lost 2-1 to Sweden, who then went on to beat Italy 5-0. Does that fact give you hope?
We know what to expect from Italy and will leave no stone unturned. We played two different types of games in this tournament, the first one was a little bit more defensive. The second one was a little bit more open. And I will not divulge what we will do tomorrow. But we have to get the result. We cannot think that it’s just going to fall into our laps, we have to leave everything on the field and make sure that we get what we deserve. To be honest, we deserved more during this tournament and we didn’t get it. And now it’s up to us to go that extra mile to make sure that we leave everything out there and get the result because we have come here to go to the second round. Even though it’s our second World Cup, we know the quality that we have, we know the quality that the team has, and we know what this team is capable of. So we are working very hard to get the result that we deserve.

How is the mood amongst the players going into the game?
We had a team building the other day and one group was tasked with making a jersey out of toilet paper, a soccer jersey. The second group was tasked with making a boat out of cardboard. And the last group was tasked with having a ‘broadcast’, where you either do a pre-match or a post-match (interview). It was really funny, we’ve never laughed so much. Everybody’s together, we know how important this game is, this is our ‘final’, we can’t look any further than it and it’s all hands on deck to make sure that we get the result that we deserve. Because we haven’t got the rub of the green. All we ask (to the officials) is ‘look both ways’. The 50-50s didn’t go our way. We all know what’s at stake. We all know how big it is, we all know how it can change things back home. You know the history, we all know what it can do for the players, more than anything, to go beyond this round. We’ve come here with the aim to get to the second round and that hasn’t changed.

You can be tactically prepared for a game, but how do you make sure the players are mentally ready?
We have a psychologist in camp we have regular sessions with her. In training we work on those types of things. What happens if we are in this situation, what do we do? So we have worked on that as well. You can work on all of those things in training and sometimes that plan is there, but sometimes it doesn’t come together. And sometimes when it comes together, you say we are wonderful. And when it hasn’t come together, then we are not so wonderful anymore. And that’s the pressure of playing a game. But it’s also the pressure of the situation. And you can have a plan and you can put everything in place and then the players go out and they blow everyone away. And that’s what it’s all about, going onto that field and knowing what to do, but also handling the pressure. And I think this group has shown through all the adversity, through all the challenges that they faced over the last two years. They have risen and tomorrow’s another opportunity to rise even higher.

What would it mean for you personally to go through to the next stage?
If you know me, you know it’s never about me. It’s always about the team first because I say to the players as well, if the team does well, the individual stands out. Our ethos is teamwork first before anything else. I don’t work by myself. I work with a group of fantastic people, staff, players, who are experts in their own right. And each and every one contributes.