South Africa coach Ellis strikes defiant tone for Dutch World Cup clash

AFP , Saturday 5 Aug 2023

Coach Desiree Ellis says that "nothing can stand in the way" of her South Africa team ahead of their last-16 clash on Sunday with the Netherlands.

 Desiree Ellis
South Africa s team coach Desiree Ellis and player Jermaine Seoposenwe (L) attend a press conference at the Sydney Football Stadium on August 5, 2023, on the eve of the Women s World Cup football match between Netherlands and South Africa. AFP

South Africa won their first World Cup game ever in a shock 3-2 victory over Italy to reach the knockouts, a landmark for women's football in the country.

The Netherlands, the 2019 runners-up and ranked ninth in the world to South Africa's 54, will be favourites to win the game in Sydney and progress to the quarter-finals.

But after a World Cup that has seen a series of shocks, Ellis is confident her team can produce yet another.

"Look, we've been underestimated so many times before," she said on the eve of the game.

"I think this group has shown that nothing can stand in their way.

"This group has shown that when the chips are down, they can stand up.

"We know who we are playing, but they don't know who they are playing because this group, when the chips are down, in all our matches, they've just got better and better."

With a glint in her eye, Ellis added: "And all I can say is that there's going to be a match tomorrow."

South Africa gave third-ranked Sweden a scare before losing 2-1 to a late goal, then drew 2-2 with Argentina before a 92nd-minute winner by Thembi Kgatlana against Italy put them in the last 16.

The Netherlands coach Andries Jonker has warned his side they must not become the latest to fall victim to a shock loss and said the African champions will give their "heart and soul".

The winner of Sunday's game will face Switzerland or Spain in the last eight.

"I think it's another fight at the World Cup between a so-called smaller country -- I think many people in women's football will consider South Africa smaller -- and a bigger country," Jonker said on Saturday.

"At this championship we see every night how the most famous countries fail against other countries who are also well trained, play with passion, defend well and play top football," he added.

Reflecting on South Africa's victory over 16th-ranked Italy in injury time, Jonker said: "They play with heart and soul, for the people in the country. There's a big heart in the team, a fighting spirit.

"It's a dangerous opponent for us."

Coming into the tournament, the Netherlands were not thought to be quite the force they were when they reached the final four years ago before losing 2-0 to the United States.

But even missing injured star striker Vivianne Miedema, the Netherlands moved into the last 16 with relative ease, beating Portugal 1-0, drawing 1-1 with the US and then thrashing Vietnam 7-0.

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