JOHANNESBURG – “The goosebumps are kicking in,” Banyana Banyana vice-captain Refiloe Jane said on the team’s arrival in Le Havre, France, a place they will call home in the coming weeks leading up to their maiden appearance in the World Cup.
Banyana’s journey to France and the global showpiece has been littered with many speed bumps and disappointments.
There was the heartbreak in Windhoek when they finished fourth in the 2014 Africa Women’s Cup of Nations, narrowly missing out on being one of the three nations that would represent Africa in Canada the following year in the World Cup. They used that disappointment as fuel for their journey towards earning a ticket to France.
But that joy was short-lived with a troubling build-up to their opening match against Spain on Saturday. Banyana are without a win in their last nine matches. The last of those saw the team thumped 7-2 by Norway in Amiens, France, on Sunday.
While this poor run worries Jane, it hasn’t knocked her confidence. She is, after all, used to nightmares before realising her dream.
Jane and her friend Rhoda Mulaudzi had a turbulent couple of weeks before signing their first professional contracts at Canberra United in Australia. The pair had to raise money for their return flights to Canberra with the club only promising to reimburse them if they earned contracts.
There is no turning back, it is just 48 hours to the start of the greatest spectacle, the 2019 @FIFAWWC are you ready?— Banyana_Banyana (@Banyana_Banyana) June 5, 2019
#DareToShine #fifawwc #BanyanaBanyana #LeMomentDeBriller @SAFA_net@Banyana_Banyana pic.twitter.com/YrSOOUl8i1
When they were there, they had limited funds for food and had to make do with what they could get while being put through gruelling trials which included training with boys. That hardship made the taste of finally signing for Canberra sweeter.
The tough long road to the World Cup will also made sweeter by hearing South Africa’s national anthem played for the first time in the global showpiece at Stade Oceane on Saturday.
“The reality is kicking in,” Jane said. “We have been doing the countdowns since we qualified last year but now it is here. There’s no more time to be playing around and doing funny stuff, we just need to be focused and know the task at hand. This is our first World Cup but we have what it takes to play our level best and we’ve got what it takes to go all out.”
China and Germany complete a tough Group B for Banyana, and Jane and Co will find it almost impossible to reach the knockout stage such is the gulf in class between them and their opponents. But the versatile player is sure of one thing - Banyana will not be embarrassed on the world stage.
Good luck message from former @Banyana_Banyana captain @Simphiwe_Dludlu to the team in France#DareToShine #fifawwc— Banyana_Banyana (@Banyana_Banyana) June 5, 2019
@SAFA_net @bafana_bafana pic.twitter.com/Z6u87VbeMK
“We know that this is our first time qualifying for the World Cup,” Jane said. “We have always tried so many years back to qualify. Now that we have qualified, we also have to be realistic and know that this is our first time playing in the World Cup.
“Looking at the group, it’s not an easy one. But one game at a time, football can go any direction. As long as we are focused, prepared and take our chances.
We have to make sure that whatever happens, we have given our all. We are debutantes in the tournament but we have what it takes to make ourselves proud.”