Bravo,Banyana’s ton-up‘Vivo’

The Sunday Independent - - SPORT -

BULAWAYO: Her road to reach­ing 100 caps with Banyana Banyana was never easy.

At age 12, Banyana de­fender Nothando “Vivo” Vilakazi, was al­ready fend­ing off naysay­ers who ques­tioned whether she was a women or not.

This hap­pened when she was just start­ing out, nur­tu­ing a gift that would one day take her to two back-to-back Olympic Games (2012 and 2016), with Wal­ter Mokoena’s am­a­teur side Wal­ter Stars FC.

It reared again in the form of so­cial me­dia trolls when Banyana played to a 0-0 draw with hosts Brazil in their first group match of the 2016 Rio Olympics. The Banyana star was dubbed a “man” again af­ter cov­er­ing her nether re­gions with both hands dur­ing a set-piece.

But Vilakazi had a point of ref­er­ence to han­dle the sit­u­a­tion with grace in a tour­na­ment she de­scribes as a dream she never wanted to wake up from.

“I re­mem­ber when I was start­ing out, peo­ple would sur­round me in num­bers (be­fore or af­ter the match) and in­ter­ro­gate me on whether I was a girl or not,” she re­calls.

“It was a re­ally tough thing to take in be­cause, you know, (she was still a kid). Some­times I would won­der to my­self, ‘Why do I even bother if this is what I’m go­ing to go through al­most each and ev­ery sin­gle day when I get to play in a match?’ I was about 11 or 12 then.

“But now,” she adds, “I’m just glad that I didn’t quit.”

At Bar­bour­fields Sta­dium here, where Banyana beat Namibia 3-1 on Fri­day to qual­ify for the Cosafa Cup semi-fi­nals, Vilakazi left as the only woman with a bou­quet of flow­ers in her hands.

That, along with the 100th jersey she re­ceived from the SA Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion dur­ing the half-time break, served as a ges­ture of recog­ni­tion from Safa to her com­mit­ment and con­tri­bu­tion to the game. Her team­mates both ad­mired and en­vied her. She, not the win, was the cen­tre of at­ten­tion on the night.

She jok­ingly says she wants to play another 100 Banyana matches be­fore she hangs up her boots.How­ever, there’s only one thing that’s miss­ing in what has been a fruit­ful ca­reer play­ing for Banyana. The 28-year-old wants to play in a Fifa Women’s World Cup be­fore she re­tires.

“In ret­ro­spect, I just re­alised now that I’ve never been a quit­ter,” she says.

“I al­ways fought for what I wanted and never gave in un­til I got it. I’ve al­ways been like that. I be­lieve that this World Cup dream of mine is also go­ing to hap­pen. I just have that be­lief.”

Mean­while, Banyana’s in­terim coach De­siree El­lis ex­pressed her de­light af­ter the na­tional side se­cured their place in the semi­fi­nals here af­ter vic­to­ries against Le­sotho and Namibia in Group C.

El­lis said she might even give most of her key play­ers a rest in to­day’s match-up against Botswana at Bar­bour­fields Sta­dium (Kick-off 4.30pm) and give those who have not been play­ing a chance to im­press for fu­ture in­clu­sion in na­tional squads.

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