JOHANNESBURG - When Zimbabwean striker, Rutendo Makore, scored that superb equalizing goal just 28 minutes from the half-time break in Sunday Cosafa Cup final, Banyana Banyana player Leandra Smeda made a short request to the heavens and pleaded: “Please, don’t let this match go to penalties”.
That short prayer was answered just before the stroke of full-time when Banyana striker, Chantelle Esau, whipped in a clean cross to connect with Smeda, who was unmarked inside the box, to finish that chance off with a header.
That goal, counting as Smeda’s fourth in this year’s Cosafa Women’s Championship, which ended this past Sunday in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, also helped Banyana scoop their fourth title since this southern regional tournament was established back in 2002.
Smeda beamed with a smile from ear-to-ear when she spoke about winning this tournament in her first participation.
However, she also stressed that the national women’ side have to be just as sharp in front of goal when it comes to grinding for the required results in major tournaments, such as the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations, which will also serve as the 2019 Fifa Women’s World Cup qualifier in the coming year.
“This is the first time I’ve scored four goals in any tournament since playing for Banyana,” Smeda said. “This is also the only Cosafa tournament I have played in since my involvement in the national setup and to win it in my first participation here, it’s just amazing.
"Everybody in the team is very excited about how we performed. However, we can only hope that we’ll get better and build from this performance going into next year’s Women’s Afcon qualifiers.
“I believe that we are going to do well there (at the Women’s Afcon qualifiers),” Smeda added. “There are a whole lot of experienced players who were not called up into this current squad but are still part of the Banyana setup.
"The national team has big pool of players to select from and I believe that the coaches will do their part in terms of assembling the right squad which will represent the country well there.”
Smeda, who’s already featured in two Olympic Games and three Women’s Afcon tournaments, stated that it would be a dream come true for her to feature in the Fifa Women’s World Cup tournament set to take in France in two years time, as this is the only major tournament that’s missing in her playing career.
“We’ve proven in this tournament that this team can score goals,” Smeda said. “We’ll now have to have to make sure that we carry that form into the Women’s Afcon, and push for that top three finish which will guarantee us a place in the 2019 Fifa Women’s World Cup. It’s not going to be easy though, as we still have to qualify for the Afcon (Ghana edition) first.
“I’ve been to the Olympics, Women’s Afcon and just recently, this year’s Cosafa Women’s Championship tournament,” Smeda added. “I’m so happy with that progress in my playing career. However, the only thing that’s missing is that of having to feature in a Fifa Women’s World Cup. It would be great if it happened. I really want it as one of my achievements of having played for Banyana.”