Leandra Smeda has plenty of experience to help Banyana do well at the Awcon. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix
Leandra Smeda is banking on her European experience with Gintra Universitetas in the Uefa Champions League to help Banyana Banyana clinch a top-three finish in the Africa Women’s Cup of Nations (Awcon).

Smeda became only the second South African female footballer  after Nompumelelo Nyandeni  to feature in Europe’s biggest club competition when she made her debut against FC Honka, and scored against them.

“My stay in Lithuania was short but really good. Experiencing football in the Champions League was definitely exciting. Trying to adapt in a short space of time was difficult but I managed to adjust to the new team and their style of play.”

Smeda therefore joins a list of illustrious male SA footballers who’ve participated in the tournament, such as Benni McCarthy  who won the title with FC Porto in 2004  Thulani Serero, Steven Pienaar, Quinton Fortune, Nasief Morris, Lucas Radebe, Hans Vonk and Pierra Issa.

“There are not many players (from South Africa) who’ve played in the Champions League. When I got there, I played a different position compared to what I play here in the national team,” Smeda said. “I am used to playing as an attacking midfielder but for that side I was more of a defender. I think that experience benefited me because the coach can now play me anywhere.”

In her first tenure with Universitetas, she penned a four-month deal which commenced in July. However she confirmed that she’s been offered a new season-long deal. But before that she’ll have to turn her focus to Banyana in the November17-December 1 Awcon. South Africa are in Group B alongside Nigeria, Zambia and Kenya.

“It’s a huge tournament for us,” she said. “We know it’s the World Cup qualification tournament and we want to achieve that goal as a team. But we know it’s not going to be easy, so we need to go out there and do our best. We’ve played some of the teams so we know what to expect but obviously going there, everyone wants to qualify for the World Cup.”

Banyana haven’t had a good run in major tournaments in the past two years, especially 2016 when they failed to score in a single match in the Olympics in Brazil, while they could only finish fourth in the Awcon in Cameroon. In the Cosafa tournament though, they’ve enjoyed some success of late with back-to-back victories. Their recent triumph in the Southern hemisphere tournament served as a useful preparation for the continental showpiece.

“I think the team is ready because when you look at the squad currently in camp, it’s the same one that played in both Cosafa-winning tournaments. We just need some fine-tuning."

Sunday Independent

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