JOHANNESBURG – Thembi Kgatlana may be heading to her maiden Fifa Women’s World Cup as the focal point of Banyana Banyana and the reigning queen of African Football, but that does not put her under any sort of pressure.
Last year Kgatlana had a memorable international year with Banyana, leading the South African senior national team to their maiden global showpiece after they finished second in the Africa Women’s Cup of Nations in Ghana.
Her exploits were noticed by the Caf selectors, who named her Caf Women’s Footballer of the Year, while her strike against rivals Nigeria in the opening round was publicly voted as Women’s Goal of the Year.
For someone who’s had such an impressive year, you’d expect her to be overwhelmed by the fact that she’ll be watched like a hawk by opponents - but not Kgatlana.
“I always tell people I don’t know what pressure is. People have opinions and if you listened to opinions then you wouldn’t find out who you are,” said Kgatlana at the team’s send-off at Sasol headquarters in Sandton yesterday.
“But for me, I have internal pressure from myself. I set internal targets about what I want to achieve. If I listened to people’s opinions then my head would be all over. So there’s no pressure, I am going there (to the World Cup in France next month) to enjoy myself with the team.”
Touchdown Paris. The world Cup dream is becoming a reality as @Banyana_Banyana have sagely landed in Paris, France for the @FIFAWWC starting next month @BafanaBafana #forbanyanabanyanacomeshowyourlove #DareToShine #fifawwc @SAFA_net pic.twitter.com/XXEaEDZTqV— Banyana_Banyana (@Banyana_Banyana) May 24, 2019
Despite her impressive performances in the Awcon, the 23-year-old did not have her one-year contract extended by US National Women’s Soccer League side Houston Dash, but it was not long before other clubs came knocking.
Kgatlana signed with Chinese club Beijing BG Phoenix FC and she hasn't rested on her laurels, recently scoring a goal that took her team to the semi-finals of the Yongchuan International Tournament.
Kgatlana has been in and out of the national team during the World Cup preparations, and coach Desiree Ellis has since brought in new additions up front in Rhoda Mulaudzi and Ode Fulutudilu, who were not at the Awcon
“I don’t have a problem about the reinforcement in the national team. After all, we don’t have entitlements,” Kgatlana said.
“The coach sees players that are fit to come and that’s her choice. For me it’s about pairing with whoever comes into the squad. I came into Banyana and I wanted a position but there weren’t any. I had to work up to where I am, so it’s the same with the rest of the players.”
South Africa have reached their first-ever FIFA Women's World Cup in France this year— FIFA Women's World Cup 🇫🇷 (@FIFAWWC) May 21, 2019
What will the #FIFAWWC Effect be for the country?
Full video 👉 https://t.co/yk2eF7GLpg@FIFAWWC_RSA // @Banyana_Banyana pic.twitter.com/JC45z5eTBa
While Kgatlana has been in fine form in China, Banyana have found the going tough. They are winless in eight World Cup warm-up matches, including five defeats.
Considering they face heavyweights Spain, Germany and China in Group B, does their form trouble Kgatlana?
“When we are are losing that means there’s something going wrong. We’d rather have the team lose and go back to the drawing board, instead of having the team win all matches and when we get to the World Cup, we lose,” she said.@Mihlalibaleka