Not bad for kid from Mohlak­eng

Bayana star Kgat­lana has come a long way.

The Citizen (KZN) - - FRONT PAGE - Tshepo Nt­soe­len­goe

While many were sur­prised by Thembi Kgat­lana’s ex­hil­a­rat­ing per­for­mance at this year’s Caf Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (AWC), there was one per­son who saw it com­ing.

“We have a lot of tal­ented play­ers cur- rently and this is a very spe­cial team. Our young play­ers like Thembi will play a huge role be­cause they have grown in the last cou­ple of years and we be­lieve in the team and their tal­ent,” vet­eran Banyana Banyana de­fender Noko Mat­lou pre­dicted be­fore the tour­na­ment even started.

The 22-year old Kgat­lana took the con­ti­nent by storm help­ing Banyana Banyana qual­ify for their maiden Fifa World Cup in France next year and fin­ish the com­pe­ti­tion as run­ners-up af­ter los­ing 4-3 on penal­ties to Nige­ria in the fi­nal.

It was dis­ap­point­ing to lose to the Su­per Fal­cons, es­pe­cially hav­ing beaten them 1-0 in the group stages of the tour­na­ment cour­tesy of a won­der strike by Kgat­lana af­ter com­ing on as a sec­ond-half sub­sti­tute. That goal opened the doors for Kgat­lana, who went on to be­come the tour­na­ment’s top scorer with five goals to the good and was voted Player-of-the-Tour­na­ment hav­ing been named the Player-of-the-Match in three con­sec­u­tive games.

“It’s ful­fill­ing to see all the hard-work pay­ing off,” said the Mohlak­eng-born striker. “It has al­ways been about hard work in the last few months be­cause I knew how im­por­tant the AWC is, not only for me but for the whole coun­try. It was vi­tal that we get to qual­ify for the World Cup. Af­ter do­ing that, we wanted to go on and lift the tro­phy but un­for­tu­nately, we could not.

“We lost out on a penalty shoot-out, which was very dis­ap­point­ing. But then again, penal­ties can go ei­ther way and I think ev­ery­one in the team worked so hard through­out the whole tour­na­ment. We were de­ter­mined to go all in and fight for one an­other. The team spirit was very high and I think that worked well for us.”

It’s hardly sur­pris­ing to see Kgat­lana be­ing nom­i­nated for the Caf Fe­male Player-of-the-Year again, es­pe­cially miss­ing out the last time to Nige­ria’s Asisat Oshoala dur­ing the awards cer­e­mony hosted in La­gos ear­lier this year.

On the night, Kgat­lana did get a con­so­la­tion prize as she col­lected Banyana’s award af­ter they were voted women na­tional Team-of-the-Year.

But af­ter all of her hero­ics at the re­cent AWC, it doesn’t seem like the striker will be miss­ing out on the top in­di­vid­ual prize again at next year’s cer­e­mony. She is up against the best play­ers in the con­ti­nent, in­clud­ing Banyana skip­per Ja­nine van Wyk.

But Kgat­lana, who has been play­ing her foot­ball in the US for Hous­ton-Dash, doesn’t want to get car­ried away. The last time South Africa had a fe­male Player-ofthe-Year was back in 2008 when Mat­lou walked away with the pres­ti­gious prize.

“There are many top class play­ers on the con­ti­nent. I am happy that I have been recog­nised once again, but that doesn’t mean I am telling my­self that I am go­ing to win. It would be great to be voted the best player on the con­ti­nent and it would also be great for our coun­try. We need women’s foot­ball in the coun­try to grow.”

Win­ning the prize would also be great for her im­age and foun­da­tion, called the Thembi Kgat­lana Foun- da­tion which helps kids around her com­mu­nity with san­i­tary pads, school sta­tionery and school shoes. The foun­da­tion has been run­ning for two years now in Mohlak­eng, where she hosts foot­ball tour­na­ments by invit­ing teams from any­where to come and com­pete as well as giv­ing play­ers a plat­form to be scouted.

In that way, she also sees it as a chance to at­tract more spon­sors to help the foun­da­tion grow.

“The foun­da­tion is re­ally im­por­tant to me be­cause I know how dif­fi­cult it is to go through life when you are strug­gling. We can’t give much as the foun­da­tion, but the lit­tle we can do goes a long way. I re­ally want to see it grow and give hope to the hope­less as well as open op­por­tu­ni­ties to ev­ery kid in the com­mu­nity.”

At her age, Kgat­lana has achieved a lot al­ready and as she grows in her il­lus­tri­ous foot­ball ca­reer, she will con­tinue to be an in­spi­ra­tion to many young kids in the coun­try in. And when peo­ple talk about foot­ball le­gends from Mohlak­eng, Thembi Kgat­lana will def­i­nitely be on the list which in­cludes the likes of for­mer Kaizer Chiefs mid­fielder, the late Pa­trick “Ace” Nt­soe­len­goe and Don­ald “Ace” Khuse, to men­tion a few.

But for now, Kgat­lana wants to con­tinue work­ing hard and be ready for the global show­piece next year, where there will be an op­por­tu­nity for her to show­case her tal­ent to the world, straight from the street of the small town­ship of Mohlak­eng.

Pic­tures: Back­pagepix

QUEEN OF AFRICA. Thembi Kgat­lana may still be young, but the 22-year-old has taken the foot­ball world by storm.

Kgat­lana was named Player-of-the-Tour­na­ment at the re­cently com­pleted Womens’ Africa Cup of Nations.

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