JOHANNESBURG - Linda Motlhalo might have propelled Banyana Banyana to be a force to be reckoned with in continental football, but she admits that she still gets goosebumps with the thought of being an integral member of the senior national team.
It’s a dream relished sooner than expected for Motlhalo. Motlhalo made her Banyana debut at 17 years of age, scoring in a 2-2 draw against Cameroon. However she was more hands-on with the juniors as she captained Basetsana.
After she and her companions failed to to qualify for this year’s Fifa Under-20 Women’s World Cup at the hands of Nigeria, Motlhalo stepped up to help Banyana avoid the same fate.
She inspired the team to their first ever global showpiece - doing so in style, as she avenged that disappointment from Basetsana by defeating the Super Falcons in the opener of the Africa Women’s Cup of Nations (Awcon).
They played a 0-0 draw in the final, and Motlhalo’s last spot spot-kick in the shootout was saved to deny Banyana their first Awcon gold medal. Nonetheless, “Problem Child” believes that was a tiny drop in the ocean and she’s hoping to continue growing from strength to strength.
“My journey started from the under-17s, and we failed to qualify for the World Cup. We then went to the under-20s, and met Nigeria and we suffered the same fate,” she recalled.
"When I came through those ranks, I never thought that I’d make it to Banyana at such a young age but when that happened, people like Amanda Dlamini, Thembi Kgatlana and Janine van Wyk were my source of reference.”
She continued: “Now I got a chance to qualify with the senior national team, it’s like someone will say ‘wake up Linda, you are dreaming that you’ve qualified for the World Cup for the first time with the senior team’. The aim is not to add numbers when we get to the World Cup but to make history.”
Motlhalo seems to be relishing making history. She and Kgatlana recently joined Beijing BG Phoenix FC in the China Women’s Super League - becoming the first Banyana footballers to achieve that feat. The duo was together at NWSL side Houston Dash where they worked under former Banyana coach Vera Pauw.
Motlhalo and Kgatlana will put their jovial mood for joining a new club on hold for now, as they do duty with Banyana at the annual Cyprus Women’s Cup. Last year, the South Africans finished sixth in the tournament and went on to book their spot in the global showpiece.
In this year’s edition Banyana will want to leave no stone unturned leading up to France. Banyana, who are in group A, will open their Cyprus Cup campaign this afternoon (1pm) when they face Finland. Their other group stage counterparts are Korea DPR and Czech Republic.
The Randfontein-born footballer is optimistic that they can hold their own in the tournament that will host World Cup participants from Europe, Asia and Africa.
“We’ve been here before and there were a lot of positives,” Motlhalo said. “The aim is to go higher than our last finish, and if it means to get to the final, then let it be.”@Mihlalibaleka