As she watched from the sidelines, Thembi Kgatlana must have been wondering when she would get her chance to take on the famed defending champions Nigeria.
Banyana Banyana were certainly not overawed in their African Women’s Cup of Nations opener at Cape Coast in Ghana on Sunday.
Both teams had opportunities to break the deadlock, with the Super Falcons missing one chance where it was easier to score than to blast it over the top.
But with the victory up for grabs, Houston Dash striker Kgatlana – who hails from Johannesburg, but became a star at the University of the Western Cape – got her big break.
Coach Desiree Ellis replaced Busisiwe Ndimeni with Kgatlana in the 57th minute, and while Banyana were pushing hard for the winner, it looked like the match was destined for a draw.
But then came the big moment. The classy Jermaine Seoposenwe chipped the ball over the Nigerian defence, and Kgatlana made a superb run into space.
The ball bounced up at just the right height, and the 22-year-old swung her right boot with serious force to beat Nigerian goalkeeper Tochukwu Oluehi.
“It was the most amazing feeling ever, because I knew that if I let it bounce a second time, I might not get the chance (to shoot on goal),” Kgatlana told the Safa website on Monday.
“It’s either I hit it and I see what happens, or I don’t hit it. The adrenalin was rushing, because every time I get into the box, I’m still deciding.
“But at the moment, when the ball bounced, it was now or never. And Jermaine told me today that I’m going to score…
“And having to score from a ball that comes from her means a lot to me as, before she played that ball, we had a good eye contact, and we saw that the defenders gave me a lot of space to run into.
“I utilised that, and was able to score. We knew that the Nigerian defence was slow, and we had to capitalise on that. They had a chance and they could’ve killed us, but they didn’t. And that’s football.”
This was just the second win for Banyana over Nigeria, but while it was one of the most memorable victories in their history, the bigger picture is still about qualifying for next year’s World Cup.
The top three teams will go through to France 2019, and Banyana’s journey continues against Equatorial Guinea on Wednesday (8.30pm SA time).
“Today marks the second time that Banyana Banyana beats Nigeria, and it’s a very historic moment for us because this year, starting with such a performance will give us confidence going into the next one,” Kgatlana added.
“Our aim here is not to get revenge, but to qualify together as a team and eventually go to the World Cup.
“The victory is a confidence-booster, looking at how Nigeria has been dominant through AWC – whether it’s World Cup qualifying or not. They don’t take chances, and they make sure they kill whoever is in front of them.
“Equatorial Guinea are not the same as Nigeria, and we have a plan and must execute it. We have been camping the whole year, and need to start well.”@ashfakmohamed