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16 May 2018 | in Football

South African Soccer Star Hails Universiade Experience for Continued Success

 

South African striker and Houston Dash recruit Thembi Kgatlana feels her participation at the 2017 Summer Universiade provided the perfect platform to showcase her skills, and help her reach the level she is at today.

 

The 22-year-old signed her first professional football contract earlier this year, joining American top-flight club Houston Dash following a superb 2017, where she not only shone for Team South Africa in Taipei, yet was named her university’s Sportswoman of the Year after also being named Top Goal Scorer and Player of the Tournament in the country’s national club championships.

 

Kgatlana also took her talent onto the international stage, impressing for South Africa’s senior national team as she was named the Council of Southern Africa Football Associations (Cosafa) Player of the Tournament after leading the South African national women’s team, Banyana Banyana, to a record fourth Cosafa Cup crown, which earned her a nomination as one of the three candidates for the prestigious 2017 African Women’s Footballer of the Year award.

 

Yet the talented footballer, who netted twice in South Africa’s campaign at the Summer Games last year, says she has fond memories of the Universiade, and hopes future South African teams will continue to do the country proud at forthcoming Universiades and beat her side’s fourth-place finish in 2017.

 

“That experience was amazing,” she says when asked about the tournament in Taipei. “It was like an Olympic Games set-up, and I was really happy to see how we performed overall. We had an opportunity to win a medal, but we gave it away and in the end came out fourth. But I believe upcoming teams from now on will be more informed about being able to go to the World Student games and get a medal, so anything is possible, and I hope one day it happens.”

 

Kgatlana, who last month made her professional debut for Dash in America’s National Women’s Soccer League, feels the Universiade provides an opportunity for many of her compatriots to experience sport at an entirely new level, especially considering the absence of a professional women’s football league in South Africa, which made her team’s fourth-place finish last time out even more memorable.

 

“I think participating at the Universiade definitely open doors for South Africans because at the Games, most of those students in other teams study and play professional football,” she says. “And with South Africa not even having a professional league, we were still able to perform at the highest level, and were able to beat the USA and Great Britain. It was amazing to see how we performed and how well we did throughout the whole tournament, and still come out fourth amid all those circumstances. It’s great to be recognised outside of South Africa, from the student level, to national and international level.”

 

The Tourism and Management student would have been in her final year of studies in 2018, yet has put her degree on ice after deciding to pursue her dream of playing professional football abroad. Education is of utmost importance to the talented sportswoman however, with her tertiary institution – the University of the Western Cape – offering her a five-year leeway period for her to return to complete her degree, something which Kgatlana is extremely grateful for, despite admitting a future job in line with what she studied is far from her immediate thoughts.

 

“It’s really important for me to get my degree – not many have that opportunity to get a degree and still play football,” she says. “Having been given that opportunity, I want to finish my degree because of all the years I’ve invested into my studies, and becoming a better person through education. But for now I’m just enjoying my football, and it doesn’t look like I’ll go into the tourism industry anytime soon. But anything is possible – I could get injured and not be able to return to football, so if I have a degree, it will help a lot.”

 

For now, Kgatlana is looking to continue making a name for herself on the international stage as she settles into her new environment in Houston, before readying herself for her national team as South Africa faces off against neighbours Lesotho for a spot in the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations – a tournament pitting Africa’s top women’s sides against each other – later this year.

 

Picture credits: Houston Dash
South African image: BackpagePix