SOWETO, SOUTH AFRICA - AUGUST 27, Noko Matlou during the 2012 London Olympic Games qualifier match between Banyana Banyana and Ethiopia from Orlando Stadium on August 27, 2011 in Soweto, South Africa Photo by Lefty Shivambu / Gallo Images

Johanneburg – Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula has called for a professional women's football league in South Africa.

He was speaking after Banyana Banyana returned home defeated from their Olympic debut on Thursday.

“They met the best and were defeated, but we are still proud of them,” said Mbalula, who greeted the team on their arrival at OR Tambo International.

“The future looks bright, though, for women's football in South Africa and we need to engage Safa on trying to get going a professional women's league in this country, because that is the only advantage the other countries have on us.

“Well done girls, and we are aware you could have done a lot better, but qualifying and being at the Games is victory in itself.”

The national women's side failed to win a match at the London Games, losing 4-1 to Sweden in their tournament opener, and going down 3-0 to Canada in their second match.

They played to a goalless draw in their final pool game against world champions Japan on Tuesday, but the result was tarnished after the Japanese side admitted they had been instructed to manufacture a draw to ensure an easier run in the playoffs.

“We were surely not disgraced. We should applaud the girls for their good showing,” said Safa president Kirsten Nematandani.

“Playing against such established countries is no mean feat, but our girls stood their ground, even though they went down in two matches out of three.

“We are proud of you girls, and are confident that going forward we will grow even more.”

Banyana captain Amanda Dlamini said they hoped to build on their form ahead of the continental women's championships in Equatorial Guinea, which starts in October.

“This was an unforgettable and proud moment for me personally, as well as 1/8for 3/8 the whole team,” Dlamini said.

“Also, it was an experience of a lifetime, and we learnt a lot as a team and we are confident those lessons will stand us in good stead when we tackle the African Women's Championships.”

Striker Portia Modise, who scored the team's only goal against Sweden, a blinding shot from 45m out, said that strike was one of the highlights of her career.

“I cannot stand here and take all the glory,” Modise said.

“Gratitude should go to my teammates, because I could not have done it without them.

“I am still excited over the goal, and I must agree it was a great goal.

“It's one I will remember for a very long time.” – Sapa