JOHANNESBURG - Her pace and skill in the final third always leaves her opponents gasping for air, especially after 90 minutes of unsuccessfully attempting to try and keep her quiet on their defensive line.
And that’s because the Banyana Banyana star attacking midfielder, Thembi Kgatlana, runs like she’s got wings on her feet - she's never short of tricks to evade her markers whenever opposed. It’s the crowd which keeps her going each time she’s on the ball.
The locals here, who have watched her play in Banyana’s last three group matches in this Cosafa Women’s Championship, currently ongoing in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, don’t know her name. However, they are very familiar with her jersey number. Kgatlana dons the No 11 on her back.
The 21-year-old midfielder admits that she finds it very flattering that the locals find her refreshing each time she’s pressing forward with the ball. However, she adds that her primary objective is to help the senior national team reach this year’s final, and hopefully win it in her first participation.
“I don’t know what it is (they like about me),” Kgatlana says. “Maybe it’s my speed, or they just like my skill each time I’m on the ball. But that’s just the way how I play. Each time when I go home, I always make sure that I have my training sessions with boys, or maybe just play five-a-side matches with them.
"I like those types of matches because they force you to think on your feet. You would find two markers charging at you at an incredible speed and right there and then; you are forced to come up with something new in an attempt to evade both of them. And that’s where the flair comes from.
“This is my first participation in this tournament,” Kgatlana adds. “And I just hope to do best in order to help the team (fight) to win this championship. That would be great if we did.”
Banyana will take on Zambia in a semi-final clash on Thursday at Barbourfields Stadium (kick off 1pm), and Kgatlana says her side are fully aware of what they are up against in this match-up, which will decide who will go through to this year’s final.
“We’ve played against Zambia before and they are a side which we cannot afford to underestimate in this tie,” Kgatlana says. “They are a bit more like us. They like to keep the ball while pressing forward as a unit in search for goals.
"Sometimes, they like catching their opponents on a counter. They are very good at that. We know how to do that as well. We prepared well against them, and if they think that they’ll catch us on counter attacks in this tie, then they’ve got another thing coming.”
Meanwhile, Kgatlana stated that her first personal goal going into this tournament was to finish as Cosafa’s top goal-scorer. However, having scored just two goals, while also being very effective in breaking the opposition’s defence and creating a whole lot of scoring opportunities for her side to convert instead of her, the Banyana star revealed that she's now hoping to push for the Player of the Tournament accolade instead.
“My initial goal was to push for the Top goal-scorer of the Tournament award,” Kgatlana says. “However, now all that has changed because you’ve got sides (like Kenya) who’ve won one of their matches (against Mauritius) by 11-0. I had to channel my focus to something that’s more attainable for me which is, scooping the Player of Tournament. And I believe that it’s possible to win it.”