Thembi Kgatlana challenges Gu Yasha of China. Photo: Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes

JOHANNESBURG – Banyana Banyana talisman Thembi Kgatlana may yet again be central to the team’s chances in their crucial Fifa Women's World Cup second round group clash against China at Parc des Princes in Paris today (9pm kick-off SA time).

The South Africans go into the encounter low on morale after an opening 3-1 Group B loss to Spain, although the Chinese are also hoping to get their campaign back on track after losing 1-0 to Germany.

But Banyana have Kgatlana and Linda Motlhalo as possible trump cards who ply their trade with Chinese side Beijing BG Phoenix FC.

Kgatlana, just like she did when she inspired South Africa to the global showpiece via the Africa Women’s Cup of Nations, has already given her side a glimmer of hope that they can achieve the improbable and reach the knockout stage after she scored that audacious goal against Spain.

“It will be a crucial game against China, we’ve now got two games left to collect six points,” she said.

“Hopefully we’ll be in the top two or three in the group, which will be huge for the country considering that it’s the first time Banyana are playing in the World Cup.”

Kgatlana, 23, may only have joined Phoenix early this year but she’s already set the Chinese Women’s Super League alight, inspiring her team to the cup semi-finals.

Before that though, a young and immature Kgatlana had met the Chinese in the 2016 Rio Olympics, where SA lost 2-0. Now a wiser and more mature Kgatlana has had the pleasure of sharing the locker with some of the Chinese League’s best.

“I know a few players and what my chances are. Without any pressure from the coaches or outsiders, I am one player that likes to do the job at hand,” she said.

“Since the Olympics I’ve grown a lot and have courage to do things on my own. When I get into spaces, I know that I am the last person to do things. Earlier in my career, I got into spaces and I didn’t finish well but now I know what to do.”

Despite the wealth of knowledge 'Pikinini' has about the Chinese, she’s been mum about their weaknesses to coach Desiree Ellis’s technical team and her teammates. Instead, she wants to use that to her advantage as she looks to inspire the team to the last 16.

“No. I haven’t told anything to anyone, I’ve kept it to myself. I want to capitalise on that,” Kgatlana said. “Yes, the coaches have done research on China and that will add to what I already know.”

Kgatlana clearly wants to grab the bull by the horns in the ongoing showpiece in France and maybe that spirit will rub off onto the rest of team and Banyana can record their maiden victory in the World Cup finals.

IOL Sport