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Udubs star in Banyana camp

Udubs star in Banyana camp

For the Cape Town football fans who had not seen her in action before, Thembi Kgalana’s phenomenal performance in the Varsity Ladies Football competition on Heritage Day was enough to demonstrate why she is a rising Banyana Banyana striker.

The University of the Western Cape (UWC) Ladies FC forward tormented the Tshwane University of Technology for most of the afternoon, scoring a stunning individual goal and being recognised with the Player of the Match award. UWC went on to lose the match at the UWC Sports Stadium 2-1.

Kgalana, together with UWC Ladies colleague Leandra Smeda and former teammates Jermaine Seoposenwe and Kelso Peskin who are playing in the United States, was picked for the Banyana Banyana team that will face Equatorial Guinea on 3 October in the first leg final round of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games qualifiers. But, sadly, she had to pull out of the camp due to injury.

In any case, Kgalana, a first-year BA student in tourism management at UWC, believes the clash against the Central African side is crucial for local football and the team is up for the challenge. “There is a good vibe here (in the camp) and we are all looking forward to the game knowing that it could be one of the most important games for women’s football in South Africa. We are all going there with our heads up and we will do our best.”

While Kgalana’s place in the UWC line-up is guaranteed, things are different in the national squad. “You have all the best players in South Africa, and having to compete against them is tough because everyone wants to make the grade,” she says.

Being a university student and an international athlete at the same time is no child’s play and Kgalana is finding the workload tough. She was named in the Banyana team that went to compete in the African Games - previously known as the All Africa Games - in Congo Brazzaville recently, but the University could not release her because of her busy academic schedule.

“It’s very difficult to balance the two. Sometimes the University cannot release me because I have a lot of work, and sometimes they release me but while I’m in camp I have to talk to my tutors or lecturers so that I can submit my work. Sometimes it’s stressing, and sometimes I want to give up but I know that I love both, and in order to be successful one needs education. In the end I want to play sport and I want to go to school and make my parents proud.”

The 19-year-old Kgalana started to play for Banyana last year and has earned six caps. She began playing football at the age of eight with boys. At some point her parents banned her from playing with boys but she would escape through the window or hide her soccer boots in her school bag and pretend to be involved in extracurricular activities at school, all the while playing soccer with the boys after school.

One of Kgalana’s role models is Nompumelelo Nyandeni (Italian football legend Andrea Pirlo is another one), whom she used to watch on television, and the two are now in the same Banyana team. “I didn’t believe that someone is too young to challenge for something. To me age is just a number. A performance will take you where you want to be so I just worked hard to make it into the senior national team.”

For the football star wannabes, Kgalana has some advice, “Work hard, grab every opportunity as it comes because it might be the only opportunity, and if you miss it you may regret it for the rest of your life. And believe in yourself even when other people don’t”.