South Africa’s women’s team will pick up their World Cup preparations this week when they participate in the annual Cyprus Cup for the seventh time.
They are guaranteed four matches over the next fortnight, as coach Desiree Ellis, who has a strong squad at her disposal, looks to hone her side for France 2019.
South Africa qualified for the Women’s World Cup for the first time after several near misses and plan to have a fulsome six months of preparation before it kicks off in June.
Banyana Banyana have already played friendlies against fellow qualifiers the Netherlands and Sweden – two sides who will be among the serious contenders in France – and have now got games against the Czech Republic, Finland and North Korea in the Cyprus Cup.
They play Finland on Wednesday, North Korea on Friday and the Czech Republic next Monday, 4 March. They will have one more game on 6 March, playing for one of 12 places, depending on how they fare in their group.
“Things have gone well, I have been impressed by the enthusiasm and the attitude. The level of fitness is good as well,” Ellis said as her squad assembled for training before flying to Europe.
“We obviously want results, but improvement is also key, improvement in our performance and fitness levels.
“The focus in Cyprus is on improving in all aspects, ball retention and movement. We are going to a tournament where there is little time in between matches, so we will have to look after that.
“Any tournament you go to, you want to win it. There were a few players we did not get to see in the Netherlands and Sweden games and it is only fair to give them another chance. The door is never closed. We want to take the best players with us to the World Cup,” Ellis added.
Banyana will have a brief break when they get back from the Mediterranean island, with plans to go into a full-time camp from as early as 1 April in order to best prepare for the Women’s World Cup.
Without a regular league, the South African women have little prospect of keeping up their match fitness in the months leading up to the tournament unless they have a regular diet of games and intense training, which the camp will offer.
Banyana have also been invited to the United States for a friendly against the pre-tournament favourites. It will be played in Santa Clara, which is near San Francisco, on 12 May.
Banyana – one of three African representatives in France – make their maiden World Cup appearance against Spain in Le Havre on 8 June.
They then meet China in Paris five days later and finish their Group B commitments against former world champions Germany.