Banyana captain Janine van Wyk celebrates with goal-scorer Thembi Kgatlana after the victory over Mali. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix

She’s turned out for an overseas club and played over 150 matches for Banyana Banyana, and has the battle scars to prove that she has seen and done it all in a 14-year international career.

But for captain Janine van Wyk, seeing the South African women’s football team qualify for the World Cup is the ultimate.

And for the hard-tackling defender, it brought tears to her eyes in the aftermath of the 2-0 win over Mali in the Africa Women’s Cup of Nations semi-final on Tuesday.

Thembi Kgatlana’s goal in the first half would’ve eased the South African jitters, but coach Desiree Ellis and her team had to wait until there were around 10 minutes left in Cape Coast, Ghana for Lebohang Ramalepe to score the decisive second goal.

“I am absolutely over the moon, I am so excited. I don’t know what to do with myself! I’m pacing up and down; I don’t know who to hug – whoever is in front of me!” Van Wyk said in an interview on the Safa website.

“I am just extremely so incredibly proud of this team – how far we have come. It’s been a long time coming for some of us in this team, after missing out on the World Cup.

“But we’ve done it, and it’s an amazing feeling.”

It was heart-wrenching for Van Wyk to miss out in 2014 and 2016, as Banyana fell short in the third-place playoff at the Awcon.

She admits that she thought of giving up the game at one stage.

“It’s very emotional for me, thinking how long it took us to get here. It definitely wasn’t easy… Now you are going to make my cry – it’s been worth it, you know,” Van Wyk said.

“I’m truly grateful for everything I’ve been through, the ups and downs. There were many times that I felt I needed to just let go and hang up my boots. But here I am, still going strong, and I’m proud of never giving in.”

With their place in France next June secured, Banyana will go all out to win their first African title in the final against Nigeria on Saturday (6pm SA time kickoff).

They won their group match 1-0 against the Super Falcons, but Van Wyk doesn’t think the title decider will be as easy.

“It’s a very special group, and of course we made history. Our aim was to get to the top of the table in our group, which we did, and then to qualify for the World Cup,” she said.

“Now we want that gold medal and trophy. I honestly believe that we can go all the way. It’s been a long journey for us, for coach Desiree, for me as a captain. And there are many others, and this is just so special for us.

“Right now I want to celebrate, as I see us in France and going to compete on the world stage.

“But on the other hand, in the back of my mind, it’s Nigeria. It’s another tough battle ahead, and it’s something we are closer to do to make history once again.

“I don’t think it is going to be the exact same game as in the first one, as we were fresh then. Now we’ve played four games, and we will see which team is the hungriest to grab that title.”

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