Hopes pinned on Kgat­lana to bring CAF gong home

CityPress - - Sport - DANIEL MOTHOWA­GAE daniel.mothowa­[email protected]­press.co.za

It has been a while since a South African player as­cended the podium at the CAF Awards.

Ex­pec­ta­tions are that Banyana Banyana star Thembi Kgat­lana could be the one to end Nige­ria’s stran­gle­hold on the African women’s player of the year award, hav­ing made the short list be­fore.

For­mer Banyana cap­tain Amanda Dlamini be­lieves Kgat­lana stands a good chance, pro­vided that the mem­bers of the judg­ing panel base their vote on over­all per­for­mance.

“I hope they look at the over­all per­for­mance. If so, Thembi stands a big chance, judg­ing by how she stood out in the Cosafa Cup and dur­ing the Af­con qual­i­fiers,” said Dlamini, who re­tired from the na­tional team a year ago, hav­ing amassed 105 caps in a Banyana jer­sey. Kgat­lana (22), who is from Rand­fontein in the West Rand, will again go head-to-head with the ti­tle holder, Nige­ria’s Asisat Oshoala, and her com­pa­triot, Fran­cisca Ordega. The win­ner will be an­nounced at the awards cer­e­mony in Dakar, Sene­gal, on Tues­day. “Oshoala has been a reg­u­lar starter and has been per­form­ing con­sis­tently in China. But we have not seen much of that at con­ti­nen­tal level,” said Dlamini. Oshoala (24) in­spired her Chi­nese side, Dalian Quan­jian, to a league and cup dou­ble with 19 goals, while Kgat­lana made 16 ap­pear­ances in her de­but sea­son at Hous­ton Dash in the US.

She al­most sin­gle-hand­edly pow­ered Banyana to a run­ner-up spot at the African Women’s Cup of Na­tions in Ghana last month. Kgat­lana was named the player of the tour­na­ment and also claimed the top goal scorer’s award with five goals.

Her goals in­clude the won­der strike that gave Banyana a rare vic­tory over Nige­ria in the group stage of the event, al­though the Su­per Fal­cons still went on to win the fi­nal on penal­ties, at the ex­pense of South Africa. Kgat­lana is also up for the CAF goal of the year award.

Prior to the Af­con fi­nals, Kgat­lana played a lead­ing role in Banyana de­fend­ing the Cosafa Women’s Cham­pi­onship in Sep­tem­ber 2017.

She also headed into the Ghana con­ti­nen­tal cham­pi­onships hav­ing been crowned the most valu­able player at the Cyprus Women’s Cup in March, de­spite South Africa hav­ing fin­ished fifth at the tour­na­ment. Spain was the win­ner. Nige­ria’s women foot­ballers have claimed 10 CAF women’s player of the year awards since the Su­per Fal­cons’ yesteryear hero, Mercy Akide, led the ac­co­lades by clinch­ing the 2001 crown, fol­lowed by Per­petua Nk­wocha in 2004, 2005, 2010 and 2011. Cyn­thia Uwak took the hon­ours in 2006 and 2007, while Oshoala, a for­mer Arse­nal and Liver­pool Ladies mid­fielder, won in 2014, 2016 and 2017.

“It will be fit­ting that a young woman like Thembi caps the won­der­ful work of South African women’s foot­ball with this ac­co­lade,” said Dlamini. Vet­eran Banyana de­fender Noko Mat­lou was the last South African, male or fe­male, to be voted the con­ti­nent’s best player when she got the nod in 2008.

“The truth is, I am up against tough can­di­dates, but I feel more con­fi­dent go­ing to the awards this time around,” said Kgat­lana, who is part of the Banyana squad that will face the Nether­lands and Swe­den in friendly fix­tures in Cape Town later this month.

“I thank my team-mates and the coach­ing staff be­cause foot­ball is a team sport. If it was not for them, I would not have per­formed the way I did, and would not have re­ceived these nom­i­na­tions.”

PHOTO: SYD­NEY MAHLANGU / BACKPAGEPIX

SHIN­ING STAR Thembi Kgat­lana has de­vel­oped into one of the con­ti­nent’s best play­ers

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