Interim head coach of the Sasol-sponsored Banyana Banyana, Desiree Ellis says her charges have to be proud of the performance they put up despite losing 3-0 to Sweden in an international friendly match played at the Cape Town Stadium on Sunday, 21 January.
An own goal in the opening ten minutes by defender Bambanani Mbane, and two other goals in the second half left the South Africans disappointed after competing with the Europeans.
"We take a lot of positives from this exercise and we are the first to admit that we have to raise our level a little bit more to get to their level. This was a fantastic performance from the players, but it is not the result we wanted. We will continue to work hard towards the bigger picture, which is the qualification of the 2019 FIFA World Cup. This match was the start of that process, so we are happy with the output but not the result," said Ellis.
"Once we made the changes - because we felt we needed to give other players a chance - there was hardly any balance. Today was not just about the result but also giving players an opportunity, and test them at the level they have never been in. Some fell short, but others raised their hands and that what this friendly was all about. Overall I cannot complain, I am really proud of the players because we held our own."
South Africa last played in October 2017 when they defeated Burkina Faso, but they showed a fighting spirit against a strong opposition lying 10th on the FIFA World rankings.
"We are very critical of ourselves, and we know we made a lot of errors and that is something we need to work on. And for us to improve more, we have to play games like these. I think we need to improve our performance by about 40 percent to qualify for the World Cup. There were times when I felt we had to put the ball on the ground more, because in the moments when we did that, we really played well. The long ball does not work for us. All we can do is continue working hard," added Ellis.
This was the first time Banyana Banyana played in the Mother City.
"We had a very magnificent crowd and a wonderful stay in Cape Town. The week leading up to this match was just awesome with so much media coverage. We hope we can come back here again," said the former Banyana Banyana captain.
"To play in this magnificent stadium was just a wow for us. I played on this pitch only for 10 minutes during the 2010 FIFA World Cup, so I know how it feels like. I think it must have been a dream come true for most players, and I always say if you cannot play on this pitch, you cannot play anywhere else. We were well received and everyone made us feel welcome. It was exciting to be in Cape Town."
Banyana Banyana now have to shift their focus now on the Cyprus Women's Cup - the annual tournament runs from 26 February to 7 March 2018, and involves 12 women's national teams from around the world.
The competition has been held since 2008, and Switzerland are the current champions.
Banyana will be making their sixth appearance - 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, and 2015.
This year they have been drawn in Group C alongside Hungary, Slovakia as well as Trinidad and Tobago.
South Africa will face Slovakia in their opening match to be played on Wednesday, 28 February.
Kickoff is at 13h00.
The second match will see Banyana Banyana taking on Hungary on Friday, 2 March at 18h00.
In the last group stage clash, South Africa will lock horns with Trinidad & Tobago on Monday, 5 March at 13h00.
BANYANA BANYANA FIXTURES AT THE 2018 CYPRUS WOMEN'S CUP
Slovakia vs South Africa
South Africa vs Hungary
South Africa vs Trinidad & Tobago