WAFCON Final 2022: Two coaches trying to right the wrongs of past tournaments

Side-by-side images of Reynald Pedros and Desiree Ellis.
Reynald Pedros during the 2019 UEFA Women's Champions League Final. (Photo by ATTILA KISBENEDEK/AFP via Getty Images) Desiree Ellis during the 2019 Women's World Cup. (Photo by LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP via Getty Images)

Morocco and South Africa qualified for the 2022 WAFCON Final in dramatic fashion. South Africa progressed thanks to a 94th-minute penalty from Linda Motlhahlo. Not to be outdone by their counterparts, Morocco were taken to penalties by nine-woman Nigeria and prevailed thanks to Rosella Ayane putting away the all-important spot-kick.

While neither side impressed in the semi-finals, they have shown themselves as the two strongest sides in the tournament. They are the most solid defensively. Morocco have conceded three goals in their five, while South Africa have only had their defence breached on two occasions.

What stands out the most in these two sides is that they are by far and away the two best-coached sides on the continent. They both have a very clear structure and patterns of play, and they have shown that they can adapt in games to change the outcomes.

But despite their apparent similarities, their coaches come from entirely different backgrounds. At the helm of Morocco is Reynald Pedros, a coach with a pedigree never seen in Africa. Meanwhile, South Africa are led by Desiree Ellis, who grew up in a rough part of Cape Town and has had to overcome countless obstacles in her footballing career to get where she is now.

For all their differences, they have one thing in common. They are both trying to right past wrongs on the international stage.

The French Gareth Southgate

Pedros is most famous in Africa for the coaching pedigree that he brings to women’s football. He is a two-time winner of the UEFA Champions League with Olympique Lyonnais, Europe’s and arguably the world’s most successful club.

But what Pedros is known for in France—far more than his success in women’s football—is his greatest failure in the men’s game: missing the all-important penalty in the Euro 96 penalty shoot-out loss against the Czech Republic.

Pedros came into the tournament on the rise as a French star. He starred in the Nantes team that had won Ligue 1 in 1995. The following season, the team made a run to the Champions League semi-finals, where they narrowly lost to eventual champions Juventus. It was a celebrated time for Pedros—even gaining recognition alongside a fellow emerging Frenchman, Zinedine Zidane.

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But in the biggest game of his career, Pedros missed the only penalty of the shootout and sent his country home.

The miss was catastrophic for his career. He was criticized in the French media and became public enemy number one. Pedros’ next match for Les Blues saw him booed every time he touched the ball, and he only ever made one other appearance for the national side.

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In another major international semi-final, his team was in a penalty shootout 26 years later. This time, his players all held their nerve—scoring all five penalties and sending the jubilant hosts into the final.

Pedros will no doubt move on past that traumatic match, but his first international semi-final since (now as a coach) must have brought memories flooding back to the Frenchman.

Having conquered that foe, Pedros will look to do one better and win a major international honour as a coach—something which eluded him as a player.

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Same story, different ending?

Across from Pedros in the dugout will be a coach who comes from an entirely different background. Desiree Ellis is the first South African woman to take full-time charge of Banyana Banyana for 22 years. She grew up in a suburb of Cape Town playing football with boys, only playing for a girls’ team for the first time as a fifteen-year-old.

Despite playing at the highest level in South Africa and for the national side, she never played professionally. She worked full-time doing anything and everything while playing football.

She famously was fired from a factory job in Cape Town because she had gone to Johannesburg for a football tournament, and the bus broke down. When she returned to work, she was let go for missing work.

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Ellis made her debut for South Africa’s national team as a 30-year-old in 1993. This appearance came once apartheid and segregation began to fade, and the women’s national team began to play. Similar to Pedros, she made her debut by scoring a hat-trick against Swaziland and went onto captain the side at the 2000 WAFCON.

It was there that she tasted her first tournament knockout heartbreak. Banyana Banyana made it to the final only to lose to Nigeria 2-0, the first game of the continent’s greatest rivalry.

She replicated that loss in 2018 against Nigeria—this time as the national team’s coach. Her side lost to the Super Falcons on penalties after dominating most of the match but failing to score. In that game, Linda Motlhalo saw her decisive penalty saved. But Motlahlo had her redemption, unlike Pedros, scoring the penalty that sent Banyana Banyana to tonight’s WAFCON final.

The all-important endgame

Ellis has worked through adversity to the very top of the African game. At the CAF Awards hosted on July 21, she received a record breaking third award as the top coach in the woman’s game. She beat out three men to the award, including Pedros.

But for her, the trophy means nothing without the WAFCON trophy. She said ahead of the game, “I would trade that [award] right now for that gold medal!”

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Both Ellis and Pedros have achieved so much in their coaching careers. They have both brought new levels of excellence to African football and can be proud of the legacies they leave behind on the continent.

But on Saturday night, one of them will have expelled their demons, and the other will add another one to sit on their shoulders.

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