Not bad for kid from Mohlakeng
Bayana star Kgatlana has come a long way.
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.
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.