Linda’s pulling out all stops for Banyana & Reds

Sunday Times - - Sport Soccer - By SAZI HADEBE

● Banyana Banyana at­tack­ing mid­fielder Linda Motl­halo sees her­self play­ing for her favourite Liver­pool women’s team in Eng­land in the fu­ture.

Judg­ing by the fact that at the age of 17 for­mer Banyana coach Vera Pauw saw the tiny Rand­fontein-born player as good enough to play for Banyana, her dreams of grac­ing the lush fields of Mersey­side may yet come true.

“Liver­pool’s men’s team is my favourite in Eng­land and I wouldn’t mind play­ing for their women’s side be­fore I re­tire from foot­ball,” said Motl­halo a few min­utes af­ter she was in­cluded in the squad of 21 play­ers to rep­re­sent SA at the African Women’s Cup of Na­tions (Aw­con) start­ing on Satur­day in Ghana.

The shy 20-year-old Motl­halo has al­ready achieved many goals that many of her Banyana team­mates can only wish for.

The Banyana No 10 fin­ished top scorer with four goals when Banyana de­fended the Cosafa Cup in Port El­iz­a­beth in Septem­ber.

That achieve­ment came less than a year af­ter Motl­halo had been signed by Pauw to the Na­tional Women’s Soc­cer League out­fit Hous­ton Dash in the US along­side Banyana team­mate Thembi Kgat­lana.

“Vera Pauw has been a very pow­er­ful tool in my life. She first se­lected me to play for Banyana when I thought I was too young to play at that level,” de­clared Motl­halo, who also cred­its her Kaizer Chiefs-sup­port­ing par­ents for al­ways en­cour­ag­ing their only child to take her foot­ball ca­reer se­ri­ously.

Like many who are in­volved with the cur­rent Banyana side, Motl­halo be­lieves they are ca­pa­ble of reach­ing the heights they’ve never climbed in the past 12 Aw­con tour­na­ments they’ve par­tic­i­pated in.

Many of our play­ers stand a chance of con­tracts over­seas Linda Motl­halo

Banyana Banyana mid­fielder

“Our dreams are twofold,” said Motl­halo. “Firstly, we want to book our ticket to next year’s World Cup in France by mak­ing it to the fi­nal in Ghana. Se­condly, we want to win that fi­nal to be crowned the African cham­pi­ons for the first time.”

If Banyana achieve that feat Motl­halo says her route to Liver­pool will be­come much eas­ier.

“We see the World Cup as the great­est stage where we can show­case our talents. Many of our play­ers will stand a chance to get con­tracts over­seas.

“The big scouts from all over the world will be in France and hope­fully that’s where I will clinch my dream move to Liver­pool,” said Motl­halo with a broad smile.

Motl­halo’s in­flu­ence in the Banyana team can­not be overem­pha­sised.

She fully un­der­stands her role as a sup­port­ing striker and is not shy to take the re­spon­si­bil­ity for shooting for goals, hence her top-scor­ing ac­co­lade in the Cosafa Cup.

Banyana left for Ghana on Fri­day and Motl­halo is con­fi­dent of her team get­ting some­thing out of their open­ing match against big­gest ri­vals and 10-time cham­pi­ons Nige­ria on Sun­day in Group B.

Zam­bia and Equa­to­rial Guinea com­plete Banyana’s group.

“It’s al­ways a tough en­counter be­tween us and Nige­ria but we are well pre­pared for them this time,” said Motl­halo, who scored one goal in the 2016 Aw­con where a Banyana coached by Pauw fin­ished fourth be­hind Nige­ria, Cameroon and Ghana.

Those three are the very same teams that might stand in SA’s way to their first World Cup but Banyana coach De­siree El­lis in­sists she has a strong team to at least make the top three that will rep­re­sent Africa in France.

“In this team I have vet­er­ans like Noko Mat­lou, Nompumelelo Nyan­deni, Mamello Makha­bane and skip­per Ja­nine van Wyk.

“All th­ese play­ers know that this is prob­a­bly their last chance to qual­ify for a World Cup.

“They have played over 100 matches for Banyana and will be key in guid­ing the younger ones like Motl­halo,” said El­lis.

Pic­ture: Gallo Im­ages

Linda Motl­halo wants Banyana to qual­ify for the Fifa Women’s World Cup in France in June next year.

Pic­ture: Gallo Im­ages

Banyana Banyana cap­tain Ja­nine van Wyk and coach De­siree El­lis feel they have a strong team that can win the Aw­con in Ghana.

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