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10 December 2018 | in FISU Athletes, Football, Summer FISU World University Games

Universiade stars storm into FIFA Women's World Cup France 2019

South African trio catapulted onto the biggest world stage


Thembi KgatlanaCAPE TOWN – South African football players Refiloe Jane, Thembi Kgatlana and Koketso Tlailane have proved that dreams do indeed come true. All three young women who were part of the South African university squad for the 2017 Universiade in Taipei last year, have been instrumental in helping their country qualify for the FIFA Women’s World Cup finals for the first time. They will be in action in France 2019 in a tough Group B that includes Germany, Spain and China.


Jane, Kgatlana and Tlailane were in stellar form throughout the Taipei 2017 Summer Universiade, with Jane captaining the team and scoring, along with Kgatlana, in South Africa’s 3-1 opening game victory over Great Britain.


The South African ladies went onto finish second in Group D, after which they overcame USA in the quarter-finals, before losing out in the semi-finals to Japan. They did miss out on the bronze medal after losing to Russia in the 3rd place playoff, but the experience of playing against the best in the world did them a world of good.


Soon after the Universiade, the star trio were called up to the South African senior women’s team to participate in the regional COSAFA Women’s Championship – an international tournament involving southern African countries – in September 2017, where ‘Banyana Banyana’ as the South African women’s team is affectionately known, beat hosts Zimbabwe 2-1 in the final to lift the trophy.


Jane and Kgatlana were selected again for the 2018 edition of the COSAFA Championship, where South Africa beat Cameroon in the final to retain their crown. The tournament provided ideal preparation for the biennial Africa Women Cup of Nations competition, which pits the top countries of the African continent against each other.


This time, Tlailane also joined Jane and Kgatlana in the final squad for the prestigious tournament which South Africa kicked off in fine fashion; Kgatlana’s late second-half strike earning them a surprising 1-0 victory over defending champions Nigeria.


Jane and Kgatlana featured prominently as South Africa went through the group stages unbeaten before setting up a semi-final clash against Mali in one of the biggest matches in South Africa’s football history: the top three finishers at this tournament would secure qualification for the 2019 FIFA World Cup. Most importantly, victory for South Africa would see them qualify for the global spectacle for the first time in their history.


It was none other than in-form Kgatlana who helped them do that, as she scored the opener in a 2-0 semi-final win over Mali, sending the entire South African squad into rapturous celebrations after the final whistle. While they finished runners up in the continental tournament, it failed to put a dampener on Banyana’s party as their spot in their first-ever World Cup finals was already sealed.


Koketso TlailaneJane, Kgatlana and Tlailane can barely believe it; after lining up as teammates at the Summer Universiade just over a year ago, they’ll now be lining up for South Africa’s senior team at the World Cup in France next year.


Star player Kgatlana tells FISU about that incredible feeling. “It feels good to have played alongside Koketso and Refiloe,” she says. “If you have played with someone before, you know what to expect from them and that makes your working relationship much easier.”


Kgatlana picked up four woman-of-the-match awards in the continental championships, was named the Player of the Tournament and also received a nomination for the 2018 African Woman Player of the Year award, leaving the talented 22-year-old pleasantly surprised.


“I’m still overwhelmed with all the achievements,” she says. “They motivate to even work harder and become a better player.”


Ranked 48th in the world, South Africa know they are very much the underdogs heading into next year’s World Cup. But Jane, Kgatlana and Tlailane have already proved that dreams can come true, so sky is the limit for them when the FIFA Women's World Cup kicks off in France in June next year.


Picture credits: All BackPagePix