JOHANNESBURG – Thembi Kgatlana may have carried the burden of her team in their maiden Fifa Women’s World Cup but the Banyana Banyana legend has urged her teammates to also come to the fore.
On the biggest stage of football, Kgatlana, 23, grabbed the bull by the horns as she produced a fine performance that ensured the South Africans left their mark on the competition, despite being winless, pointless and bout of the competition after the group stage.
In South Africa's Group B opener against Spain, Kgatlana announced herself with a world class goal that gave her team a surprise lead. However, that was short-lived as Spain replied with three goals in the second half.
But Kgatlana's never-say-die attitude continued against China in the second round, although her efforts were again in vain as Banyana lost 1-0.
In the last match against Germany, “Pikinini” defied her nickname (which means tiny bodyweight) by bulldozing her way into the gigantic German defence with her speed and trickery after coming on in the second half. But still it was another bad day as they lost 4-0.
“I think Thembi is a fine footballer,” former Banyana captain Amanda Dlamini said. “She’s really maturing into the game. She’s not a complete player as yet and needs to grow, so I think we need to protect her. I think everything is on her shoulders.
“Everyone needs to... assist her. If those chances fall on Thembi by herself, she might miss two and convert one. But if the whole team is there, we can do so much better.”
While Kgatlana was the talk of town following her impressive exploits in the ongoing global showpiece in France, naysayers were calling for the head of coach Desiree Ellis.
However, Dlamini cites continuity, while not forgetting the achievements Ellis had amassed in her reign.
In 2017, the Kuilsrivier-born mentor made history when she led Banyana to the Cosafa Championship in Zimbabwe, becoming the first South African to win the Southern African tournament as player and coach. To prove that was not a fluke, she guided her team to a successful title defence on home soil last year.
Her biggest achievement was helping the team qualify for a first World Cup after finishing runners-up in the 2018 Africa Women’s Cup of Nations.
“The coach issue for me is debatable,” Dlamini said. “A lot of people are calling for her head but for me I just want to see consistency. As a country, we always rush for results, while I think her mandate was to qualify for the World Cup.
“The next step (for her) is to be consistent enough to qualify for the next one or win the Awcon next time. I still think it’s a bit premature. I think when it comes to the success of the team, she’s done well.”
Banyana returned from their global safari yesterday.@Mihlalibaleka