Linda Motlhalo will be key to helping Basetsana qualify for the for their first U20 Soccer World . Photo: BackpagePix

The tone in Linda Motlhalo’s voice betrays her youth but her words show she is wise beyond her age.

The 19-year-old has been balancing her youthful side with the experience she gained with Banyana Banyana in her bid to captain the Under-20 national team to their first World Cup appearance.

The international stage  should Basetsana get past Nigeria over two legs, starting this afternoon at the Old Peter Mokaba in the first leg of the last round of qualifiers to book a ticket to France - won’t be anything new for Motlhalo.

The lass from Brandvlei in the Northern Cape played all three matches for Banyana in the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. Only Jermaine Seoposenwe has played in the Olympics (in 2016) and the World Cup (in 2010 with the Under-17 national team).

“It would mean a lot for me to go to the World Cup,” Motlhalo said.

“The great thing about this team is that we are all in the same wavelength. We are a family. We have bonded well and the understanding we have is good.

“It didn’t take long for me to adapt coming from Banyana Banyana because I was playing with my peers. I was playing with old players at Banyana which meant that I had to step up to their level.

“But I can be myself here because I am among my peers. I didn’t come here with a know-it-all-attitude because I have played for Banyana. I think that humility has helped me gel with the team.”

Motlhalo put her studies on hold in 2016 in what was a busy year for Banyana, who were going to appear in their second successive Olympics.

She returned to class last year and passed matric with flying colours, obtaining two distinctions. Now that matric is sorted, Motlhalo and her teammates will look to slay the beast that is Nigeria, who have tormented South African national teams.

Sinoxolo and Noxolo Cesane were part of Bantwana who were thumped 7-0 on aggregate by Nigeria at the same stage in the qualifiers for the Under-17 World Cup in 2016.

“They are eager to avenge that defeat and those who haven’t played against Nigeria are eager to make history,” Motlhalo said.

“We aren’t afraid of them going into this match. We want to ensure after these two rounds that it’s them who fear us and not the other way around.

“The highlight of my career so far was playing in the Olympics. It was on another level and the support we got from the Brazilians was amazing.

“I want to experience that feeling again by qualifying for the World Cup. The good thing about us is that we have lots of belief in ourselves and the talent that we have.”

Motlhalo’s talent was refined by her father Johannes, who coached a boys team in Brandvlei before the owner of that team also launched a girls side.

Motlhalo’s father never turned professional but her uncle, Joseph “Banks” Setlhodi, did. However, Setlhodi never played an international tournament. Those two laid the foundation for Motlhalo to reach for the stars. Her JVW FC teammates  Nompumelelo Nyandeni, Amanda Dlamini and Janine van Wyk who all have more than 100 Banyana caps - helped her take her career to the next level.

“Those are legends,” Motlhalo said.

“They have played a huge role in my growth. They encourage me and they give me tips on how to be a better player, especially Mpumi and Amanda who also play in midfield.

“I can’t not succeed with the support I have received from my family and teammates.”


Saturday Star

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