Thembi pure gold, just like the great Benni

Saturday Star - - SPORT - MINENHLE MKHIZE [email protected]

ONE OF the many things I love about Banyana Banyana’s ris­ing star Thembi Kgat­lana is the sim­i­lar­i­ties she shares with Bafana Bafana’s leg­endary marks­man Benni Mc­carthy.

Let me put it this way: Thembi and Benni were just born to score goals. These are two foot­ballers from two dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tions, both prom­i­nent around the globe be­cause of their fin­ish­ing prow­ess – both lethal in front of goals. Their sim­i­lar­ity is know­ing where the back of the net is, and how to get the ball in there. Like I said, born to score goals.

Benni first made a name for him­self at the 1998 Africa Cup of Na­tions in Burk­ina Faso. His ex­ploits daz­zled those at the con­ti­nent’s big­gest show­piece (just like Thembi) and the star was born. He was cho­sen as the best player in the tour­na­ment (just like Thembi) and fin­ished level as top goal scorer with the leg­endary Egyp­tian striker, Hos­sam Has­san.

Benni net­ted seven strikes (Thembi scored five last year). From there on Benni never looked back. He went on to play for top Eu­ro­pean clubs like Ajax Am­s­ter­dam and FC Porto. Un­til to­day he is still the only SA player to be a Uefa Cham­pi­ons League win­ner. He also still holds the record for the most num­ber of goals in Bafana colours with 31 strikes.

Benni rose to promi­nence back in 1998 and the rise and the best of Thembi was on dis­play in 2018. The bril­liance of Mc­carthy was dur­ing the Af­con in Burk­ina Faso and the vig­i­lant dis­plays of Kgat­lane was in the Af­con in Ghana.

Benni fin­ished as top goal-scorer dur­ing the Af­con in Burk­ina Faso and so did Thembi in Ghana.

When Benni broke through, he was still try­ing to es­tab­lish him­self in Europe. Thembi is also still try­ing to es­tab­lish her­self over­seas, but in the United States. See what I mean about sim­i­lar­i­ties?

I be­lieve Thembi is the real deal. She has proven time and time again that she thrives in pres­sure sit­u­a­tions.

When Banyana re­quire a hero or any source of in­spi­ra­tion they now have Thembi. She will al­ways come to their res­cue. Re­mem­ber the stun­ner against Nige­ria. Her long-range shot from an acute an­gle re­ally was some­thing to drool over, es­pe­cially as it was against the Su­per Fal­cons.

In the past, when Banyana needed some magic, they would turn to Por­tia Modise. Now they have Thembi.

At just 22 years of age, she still has plenty of foot­ball ahead of her­self.

She is des­tined for great­ness. Egypt have their son in Mo­hamed Salah and South Africa have their daugh­ter in Thembi.

Give Thembi space on the field and she will hurt you. She doesn’t only have an eye for goal but she has the nose for goals. She smells them. On top of that, she has a great feel for the game and is very sel­dom caught off­side, which is the sign of a re­ally in­tel­li­gent player.

I hope she stays in­jury free for much of her ca­reer. In years to come Thembi could well be chal­leng­ing for the ac­co­lade of Women’s World Foot­baller of the Year. They say if you can dream it, then you can achieve it. Thembi has the po­ten­tial to chal­lenge the likes of Marta (the cur­rent Foot­baller of the Year from Brazil) and Carli Lioyd (2016 win­ner).

Ob­vi­ously there are still ar­eas of Thembi’’s game that need some re­fine­ments. She is not yet a com­pletely pol­ished ar­ti­cle. She is pacey, skil­ful and deadly but she still needs to work on her aerial pres­ence and the abil­ity to use her left foot. If she can mas­ter those she will be the fin­ished prod­uct.

But the fact that she won the African Foot­baller of the Year while she is still try­ing to find her­self says a lot about her abil­ity. Com­pet­ing in ma­jor tour­na­ments will also make her a bet­ter player. The World Cup will be a great stage for her and I’m con­vinced Banyana will qual­ify for the Olympic Games in Tokyo next year.

Thembi has shown many young South African girls that noth­ing is im­pos­si­ble if you give it your all. I re­ally en­joyed the fact that when she was named Women’s African Player of the Year on Mon­day, she ded­i­cated it to ev­ery young South African girl. She’s turn­ing on the magic at the age of 22.

The World Cup is where foot­ball’s great­est dreams are made. Banyana are in Group B with Spain, Ger­many and the Repub­lic of China and this is a great chance for Thembi to make an even big­ger name for her­self.

Benni be­came the first South African to score at the World Cup in 1998 in France. He net­ted in a 1-1 stale­mate against Den­mark. I have no doubt Thembi will be­come the first fe­male player to score at the World Cup for Banyana.

By 25,Thembi will have com­peted in two Af­cons, a World Cup and the Olympics Games. It was the same story with Benni. Also at 25, he had com­peted in the big­gest show­piece on earth, Af­con and the 2000 Syd­ney Olympics. That equipped him to win the Uefa Cham­pi­ons League with FC Porto in 2004.

My wish for Thembi is that she wins as many medals as Benni. I’m sure she can do it!

THEMBI this week with her col­lec­tion of CAF awards, in­clud­ing the African Women’s Player of the Year and Goal of the Year. | RYAN WILKISKY Back­pagepix

THEMBI Kgat­lana dur­ing the 2018 African Women’s Cup of Na­tions fi­nal against Nige­ria in Ghana. | BACK­PAGEPIX

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