Desiree Ellis, the player who turned coach to get South Africa women’s national team to its 1st World Cup

Stephen Nartey July 31, 2023
Desiree Ellis/Photo credit: Desiree Ellis via Instagram

Desiree Ellis, head coach of South Africa’s women’s national team, made her debut in the country’s first women’s international match thirty years ago. Now, she is leading the nation’s women’s team to the World Cup for the second time in Australia and New Zealand. Ellis recalled the tears of joy on May 30, three decades ago, as they represented South Africa, making history in women’s international football.

Over the years, significant changes have occurred in women’s football in South Africa. In the past, the national team had mostly unemployed players, but now, 99% of the team members have degrees, and some even play abroad. The growth and progress are evident, and Ellis is proud of how far they have come.

The 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand started with a 2-1 loss for South Africa against Sweden. Despite the defeat, Ellis said on Friday that she remains proud of her team’s performance and resilience. The team picked up its first-ever World Cup point during Friday’s fixture against Argentina, according to the Guardian.

As a coach, Ellis has been a trailblazer for women’s football. She took over the role in 2016 after the departure of Vera Pauw, and she helped South Africa qualify for their first World Cup. Despite a challenging period of 13 consecutive games without a win, Ellis’ dedication and belief in her abilities paid off, and she kept her job.

Ellis is one of twelve female coaches out of the 32 coaches at the expanded World Cup. She is the only female head coach among Africa’s four representatives. Ellis is excited about the increasing number of female coaches and hopes to see more opportunities and support for women in football, especially on the African continent.

Her journey in football started as a midfielder in the 1970s, a time when women’s participation in sports was not encouraged. Despite facing obstacles due to apartheid rule in South Africa, Ellis remained passionate about the game. Her family’s support and determination helped her pursue her dreams.

South African women’s football has come a long way since then. South Africa, under Ellis, reached the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (Wafcon) final in 2018 and won it in 2022. The debut World Cup appearance in 2019 marked a significant milestone, even though the results were not as they had hoped. Since then, progress has continued, with the launch of the first professional women’s league in the country.

Ellis’ journey in football exemplifies determination and resilience. As a female coach, she serves as an inspiration for others in the sport. With the growth of women’s football in South Africa, there is hope for further progress and opportunities for women in the sport across the African continent.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: July 31, 2023


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