As a nine-year-old in Middelburg, Nothando Vilakazi already knew that she wanted to become a footballer. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu/ BackpagePix

JOHANNESBURG – The dream of playing professional football may have come later than expected for Nothando Vilakazi but she’s adamant the lessons she’s learned in Europe have been invaluable.

As a nine-year-old in Middelburg, Vilakazi already knew that she wanted to become a footballer but that was not well-received by her mom, after learning she had to pioneer her journey with boys.

But thanks to her aunt’s support, Vilakazi made the most of her talent, starting her career with Walter Mokoena’s amateur side Walter Stars FC.

At 14 she played with other girls, while three years later she made her debut in the Sasol League for the Highlanders team in Mpumalanga.

From thereon, she went on to play for Moroka Swallows, before later surfacing at Palace Super Falcons.

Thanks to being a regular in Banyana Banyana’s left-back role - where she won several Cosafa Championship titles, made a number of Africa Women’s Cup of Nations (AWCON) appearances and qualified for two Olympics - Vilakazi finally landed herself an overseas contract, joining Lithuanian side Gintra Universitetas in April.

“Since playing abroad, I’ve gained a lot of experience because there were so many things that I was not aware of,” she stated.

“I wasn’t a regular set-piece taker when I was here, but I’ve always realised that I’ve had the ability to take them. But when I got there, I practice them almost every day and I think that will help the national team because I am confident with taking them now.”

With Universitetas she played in the Uefa Champions League, where they unfortunately crashed out of the group stage.

“The World Cup is the highest level in football but the Uefa Champions League’s standards are also top class,” Vilakazi said. “There’s a lot of pressure when you play there. It’s a different ball game that side and of course the coaches will demand a lot.”

Having already ticked three boxes in her wish list this year, playing in the World Cup, Champions League and winning a record sixth Cosafa Women’s Championships, Vilakazi will be hoping to inspire Banyana to their third successive Olympic Games.

Nothando Vilakazi of South Africa during the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup match between South Africa and Germany in June 2019 in Stad Mosso, Montpellier. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu/ BackpagePix

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics qualifiers will likely be the most gruelling.

CAF has 1.5 slot(s) for next year’s event, which means the winner of the fifth-round qualifies for the tournament while the runners-up will take on Copa America runners-up Chile in the play-offs.

South Africa start against neighbours Botswana, who they’ll meet tonight in Botswana.

@Mihlalibaleka

 

The Star

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