NELSPRUIT - Bambanani Mbane seems to always be a couple of seconds ahead of her opponents. And in just over a year, the dreadlocked centreback has seamlessly slotted into the Banyana Banyana set-up to make it look like she has been there for years.
The biggest gun in Mbane’s arsenal is her composure under pressure. That skill impressed former Banyana coach Vera Pauw who drafted her into the Olympics squad before she had even played a competitive match for the senior national team. Pauw’s replacement, Desiree Ellis, threw the 27-year-old in the deep end at the Africa Women Cup of Nations (AWC) in Cameroon last year. Mbane swam comfortably and solidified Banyana’s defence.
“My calmness is something that I work on every time at training,” Mbane said. “When you are calm, you can see things that other players don’t see which means you are ahead of them, especially attackers because blood rushes into their heads when they have a scoring opportunity.
"I think that my calmness sets me apart and allows me to play at my best. My coach (at Bloemfontein Celtic Ladies, Edwin ‘Motale’ Lisene) always tells me that if you rush things, you end up making mistakes.”
Mbane has been calm all week here in Celtic’s defence of the Sasol League National Championships they won at Mossel Bay last year. These championships are crucial as they are the last before Banyana attempts to qualify for the 2019 World Cup in France by finishing in the top three in Ghana later next year in the AWC.
With players like Noko Matlou and Janine van Wyk on their last legs, Mbane has ensured that there will be smooth transition from the Banyana stalwarts who have each played more than a 100 games.
“I owe hard work and dedication to be where I am today,” Mbane said. “If you have those skills, nothing will ever be too hard for you. That’s how I consistently improve my craft. I didn’t relax after being a part of Banyana Banyana because that would have been my downfall. I had to push even more because there are so many other girls who want to be in my place.”
Celtic vs Cape Town Roses in final of 2017 Sasol League National Championship at Kabokweni Stadium on Sat, 9 Dec. pic.twitter.com/gYGaIIh3r4
Ellis has been here all week to assess Banyana players as well as identify who is worth getting a look as the four-year cycle for the 2020 Olympics that will be staged in Japan heats up next year. Banyana will play two friendly matches against Sweden next month in Cape Town to prepare for the AWC qualifiers.
“I had to show what I am capable of in Cameroon since I had my foot in the door,” Mbane said. “When I return to the Sasol League, I know that I have to do even more than I do for Banyana because I play against a lot of players who would love to be where I am.
"I have to show why I am there by being professional and giving them something to aspire towards. I had role models that I looked up to when I was starting out. I know how much a good role model can shape you as a person and as a player. I try to be that by giving my all on the field.”
Njabulo Ngidi is in Nelspruit courtesy of Sasol