Linda’s pulling out all stops for Banyana & Reds
● 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.
Linda Motlhalo wants Banyana to qualify for the Fifa Women’s World Cup in France in June next year.
Banyana Banyana captain Janine van Wyk and coach Desiree Ellis feel they have a strong team that can win the Awcon in Ghana.