JOHANNESBURG – “I’ve never doubted myself, but I never thought I’d be here this soon!”
Those were the words of uncapped Banyana Banyana player Bongeka Gamede following her inclusion in the 23-woman South African squad for the Women’s World Cup.
After leading her team to their maiden global showpiece, coach Desiree Ellis echoed words of blending youth with experience, while putting an emphasis on “assembling the best team instead of only the best players”.
Luckily for Gamede, her exploits for the University of Western Cape’s ladies’ team didn’t go unnoticed - being one of only two players (together with Mapaseka Mapuru) to be named in the World Cup squad despite having not played a game for the senior national team. In her own words, Gamede admits that the call-up swept her off her feet especially that nowadays players are mostly selected on experience.
“Considering that I’ve never played for the national team before, while there are a lot of experienced players out there, I never thought I’d be here this soon,” Gamade said. “Nowadays, players are selected according to their vast experience because of their work rate. But I think that has changed because each and every player impacts a game or the team in their own right.”
Not only did Ellis give Gamede her breakthrough via the most prestigious football event, but the latter got to relish her childhood dream. It’s been Gamede’s dream to share a locker room with Banyana veteran Mamello Makhabane, and now that it has been achieved, she rates herself very fortunate to have managed to hit two birds with one stone.
Bongeka Gamede during a Banyana Banyana training session at Princess Magogo Stadium Photo: Sydney Mahlangu/ BackpagePix
“Growing up, I always looked up to Mamello,” Gamede conceded.
“I had always hoped that she wouldn’t retire before we wear the same jersey. But now that I’ve met her, we are able to sit and talk. Since I’m a student (studying Tourism Management), she regularly asks about my progress at school or how did I see my performance during a training session.”
In a year where Banyana have endured a barren run, Gamede has been shooting for the stars. South Africa have had a disappointing run in their warm-up matches, while on a positive note rookie Gamede made her first international trip when the team travelled to California to play World Champions the United States last month.
However, with merely five days before Banyana kick-off their World Cup campaign against Spain at the Stade Oceane in Le Havre, France, Gamede is adamant that the lessons that they have learnt from their warm-up matches will be invaluable.
“I’m ready to play. But working hard is better than merely talking,” Gamede explained. “But we know that God works in mysterious way, I’ll wait for the day I get an opportunity to play. But firstly, I hope that (the) team wins, plays great football and overall, gels together.”
The South Africans, who are ranked 49th in the world, are in Group B alongside Germany, China and Spain, who are ranked second, 13th and 16th respectively.