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Johannesburg – After two years of blood, sweat and tears, Banyana Banyana were relieved to finally jet off this week ahead of their Olympic debut at the London Games.
Having gone through an intense two-year qualifying process, a change of coaches, pay disputes and numerous training camps in preparation for the tournament, the national women's football team was geared up for a historic first appearance at the quadrennial sporting showpiece, according to captain Amanda Dlamini.
“It's about time,” Dlamini said before the team departed on Thursday evening.
“We've been preparing for a long time. It's time to walk the talk and do what we have been practising all along.”
For Dlamini, the reality of being an Olympian had finally sunk in as they boarded the plane to the English capital.
“Up to two weeks ago it never really crossed my mind, I suppose,” she said.
“I think it started to sink in that we were really going at the (holding camp at the) High Performance Centre with the rest of Team South Africa.
“Whether you lose or win, you can't take away the feeling of being an Olympian.
“This is something I will take back and hopefully tell my children 15 years from now.”
This year's Olympics carry significant achievements for South African women, with a number of medal hopefuls and star athlete Caster Semenya elected as the flagbearer for the opening ceremony.
Dlamini said Semenya's honour – given to a woman for the second Games in succession after amputee swimmer Natalie du Toit carried the flag in Beijing four years ago – indicated that important steps had been taken for female athletes in the country.
“It is such an awesome achievement for her (Semenya),” Dlamini said.
“Having a woman in front inspires other South African women.
“It also puts the pressure on us because we also have to lead by example.”
Banyana will play their first match two days before the ceremony when they face fourth-ranked Sweden in Coventry on July 25.
They will then meet Canada, who are third in the world, on July 28.
They conclude their tough Group F fixtures against seventh-ranked Japan in Cardiff, Wales, on July 31.
South Africa are not expected to spring any surprises, based on their lack of experience and their lowly ranking of 61st in the world.
Banyana, however, should prove gutsy, and they are expected to play their natural short passing game against their more technically gifted opponents.
The return of former skipper Portia Modise in midfield, to enthuse the team's creativity and experience, has been a boost for star striker Noko Matlou up front.
Dlamini, who has been a long-time partner for Matlou, has fitted into a deeper role in the middle of the park.
She admitted she was anxious of the unknown, but the skipper hoped to replicate the form she displayed in the qualifying rounds.
“It's scary competing against the best teams and not knowing what to expect,” Dlamini said.
“Who knows, maybe I'll play well, and we may have a big tournament.” – Sapa