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[OPINION] What going to the World Cup means for women’s football in SA

Prior to our departure to Ghana for the Africa Women Cup of Nations, I received questions about whether or not I believed Banyana Banyana would qualify for the 2019 Fifa Women’s World Cup in France. I would confidently answer: “Yes.”

I truly believed that the amount of talent in our squad was more than enough to take us all the way to the World Cup. The qualities of hard work, dedication and teamwork that I have seen in this team are incredible.

Qualifying for the World Cup is a dream come true, not only for myself but for all the players, managers, technical team, upcoming players and South Africa as a whole.

We have done well as a team, with numerous achievements that I am very proud of, but qualifying for the World Cup is the crowning achievement of our careers. Rather than viewing this as the culmination of a decade of planning, we must see it as the beginning of a new era for women’s football. It is amazing to see the hope that we have awakened in our South African fans and young women looking up to us. It is proof that women footballers in South Africa have the potential to become the best and are more than capable of competing on the world stage.

The opportunities are limitless, it is up to us and the upcoming players to grow and keep improving women’s football in South Africa. Each one of us has the ability to work hard and become even better. I’m confident that this qualification will open more doors and build support for the team. I hope that it pushes sponsors to come on board and support women’s football in South Africa. This qualification has proven that women are capable and that we truly are limitless.

World Cup qualification is evidence that dreams can come true for aspiring young women in football. I hope that this inspires them to take their talent seriously and work hard because doing so can only take women’s football to greater heights. There is an African proverb that says: “It takes a village to raise a child.” This means that for a child to reach their full potential it takes a community of various individuals who each play a different role.

For Banyana Banyana and myself, this village includes our parents who made sacrifices for us to get to matches and trials, coaches who did this for no pay when we were starting out, and biggest supporter and sponsor for the past ten years, Sasol.

It is not often that you get a sponsor that is so involved with the team. Sasol has been there for the team from the beginning, helping us achieve our goals all the way to our first ever Fifa Women’s World Cup.

Through their #Limitless initiative, which also includes an internship programme for Banyana Banyana players, Sasol has also unleashed a whole new perception on the potential and growth of women’s football in South Africa. Thembi Kgatlana winning Goal of the Year, Player of the Year and coach Desiree Ellis winning Coach of the Year at the 2018 CAF Awards is what #Limitless is all about.

It’s about celebrating powerful women who reach for their dreams no matter the circumstances or challenges they face. I’m so proud of Thembi and coach Desiree, I myself look up to them and I’m inspired to give it my all every time I go onto the field.

Our journey to the 2019 Fifa Women’s World Cup continues and I look forward to the Winnie Mandela International Challenge and the Albertina Sisulu Challenge, taking place this month against Sweden and Netherlands in Cape Town. These will be our first games this year and will be good for our World Cup preparations.

It is great to have such opportunities provided by Safa and Sasol giving us a chance to compete against some of the best teams in the world. These games will definitely help us in improving our competitiveness.

I urge all South Africans to continue supporting Banyana Banyana and women’s football as a whole. Come to the games and continue to show your love on social media, we appreciate each and every supporter. I hope to see Cape Town residents attend these games and fill up the stadium.

To those who continue to support and help grow women’s football, coaches, parents, teachers we see you, we salute you. Continue being a village that helps support our girls grow and reach their potential. I look forward to seeing an even brighter future for women’s football.

Janine van Wyk is the captain of Banyana Banyana. She has been a national player since 2005 and has 160 caps.

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