After an 11-year wait to be one of the three African nations to qualify for the global showpiece, Van Wyk and her compatriots achieved the improbable as they finished second in the Africa Women’s Cup of Nations in Ghana last year. That finish ensured that the South Africans together with Nigeria and Cameroon, who finished first and third respectively, would represent the continent in France from June7 to July7.
“For me, there are a little bit of mixed emotions,” Van Wyk said. “I am over the moon about going to the World Cup for the first time. But you can also start to hear the pressure building up a bit – knowing that the whole country and world is watching you for the first time.
“There are high expectations from certain people out there who are saying, ‘go out and enjoy yourself’, and there are those who are saying ‘bring the trophy home’. We know that we have to go out there and make the most of the experience, but also play with pride and dignity.”
In order to ensure that they don’t merely make up the numbers, the South Africans have had intense preparations against teams that will probably wear the favourites’ tag when he tournament kicks off in fewer than five weeks. They opened the year with two friendlies, against the Netherlands and Sweden in Cape Town, and that was followed by participation in the Cyprus Cup, which is open to nations from Europe, Africa and Asia.
That was followed by a friendly against Jamaica, who will also be making their first appearance at the global showpiece. However, their penultimate task is facing the defending champions, the United States, on Sunday at Levi Stadium in California.
“People are like, ‘ah, yes, we can beat the US’, but they forget they are the world champions,” Van Wyk said. “So every singly minute is going to be crucial against them, and we can’t lose concentration because they can punish you in 30 seconds. For us, it’s important to try not to concede, but we should also try to use the opportunities that we’ll get.”
Considering that scoring will be key to determining how they fare in the global showpiece, it will be crucial that the South Africans find their scoring boots against the US and in their last friendly, against Norway on June2 in France.
Although they gained invaluable experience from their friendlies this year,coach Desiree Ellis’s troops have lost their last seven matches.
“That game against Norway is going to determine our confidence going into the tournament. If we do really well there, I think our first game against Spain (on 8 June) will go really well,” Van Wyk said.@MihlaliBaleka