CAPE TOWN – Leandra Smeda, couldn’t contain the smile on her face when asked how she felt about finally being able to play in front of the home crowd in Cape Town. The emotions simply poured out of her as she answered.
Banyana Banyana line up to play their first-ever international in the Mother City when they host top-class Sweden at Cape Town Stadium on Sunday (kick-off 2pm) and, as one of the Western Cape’s finest female footballers, Smeda is keen to make an impact.
“I’m excited to be playing in Cape Town,” she said.
“It’s the first time the women’s national team has come here and I can’t wait to get out and play in front of my home crowd. It’s great for our families and friends, who only get to see us play on television – now they are able to come and watch us live.
“The women’s game is growing, but this is a great opportunity for us to make an even bigger impact. If we put up a good showing against Sweden, then we can elevate women’s football even more. For me, the big thing is that we have to get more women to play football.”
Smeda is originally from Velddrif, a quaint coastal fishing town about 140 kilometres from Cape Town. It was in this little village where the football bug first bit. Her move to the big city of Cape Town was to complete a food technology degree at Cape University of Technology (CPUT), and it coincided with Smeda joining the women’s football club at the University of the Western Cape (UWC). It was here that she rose to prominence as an energetic, intelligent midfielder, which was followed by her subsequent success with Banyana.
As for the Sweden clash today, Smeda has no doubt that the SA national women’s football side is in for a really daunting encounter indeed.
“We have played Sweden before and I can tell you that they are a very physical side,” she said. “They obviously play in a more competitive league than us, but we believe we can compete against them. We have prepared well, and we’ve studied the videos of their past games.They beat us with a late goal at the last Olympics, but this time the most important thing is that we need to take our scoring chances when they arrive.
“Playing against a team like Sweden is also important for improving our Fifa ranking. It will be tough, Sweden play some good football, but if we work hard as a unit, and stick to the coach’s game plan, there’s no reason why we can’t get a positive result.”
Smeda’s passion for for the women’s game is infectious. She speaks with great clarity about the challenges it faces, the need for more corporate involvement, and she was hoping that the proposed women’s professional league comes to fruition in 2019.
“A professional league will provide even greater exposure for women’s football,” she said. “South Africa has talent, but, at the moment, women have to juggle playing football and working. A professional league can change that. It will spark more interest in the women’s game. It will also allow more of our players to move abroad and earn a living.”