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01 July 2019 | in Summer Universiade

From the Universiade to the FIFA World Cup, and back again!

The past three years have been quite a journey for South African women’s soccer team captain Kholosa Biyana


After starring in the regional Confederation of University and College Sports Association (CUCSA) Games in 2016, the talented midfielder was called up to South Africa’s senior national team while also making the national student’s team that ended fourth at the 2017 Summer Universiade in Taipei – all this while simultaneously qualifying as a diagnostic radiographer, before returning to the books as she then enrolled into a Sports Science degree at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, where she continued her footballing career.


Yet disaster struck last year as a double injury to both her knee and ankle ruled Biyana out for six months, severely curtailing the impressive strides she had made while also raising question marks over her place in the national team: she was used mainly as a substitute following her return from injury before then missing her South Africa’s all-important Africa Cup of Nations tournament where Banyana Banyana – as the national team is affectionately known – historically qualified for this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup for the very first time, with Biyana’s ticket to France far from secure.

Kholosa Biyana with her national team teammates

The 24-year-old however persevered, and after featuring in a number of friendly encounters at the start of 2019, was included in South Africa’s history-making 23-women squad for their maiden appearance at a FIFA World Cup.


Despite failing to qualify from the group stages after tough fixtures against Spain, China and Germany, Biyana played in every match in France, as she reflects on her memorable time at the global spectacle.


“Being at the World Cup was a dream come true for me,” she tells FISU.net. “And according to God's timing, it was my time. I had a great time there and I'll forever cherish those moments. I gained a lot of experience there, I got to play against the best and am hoping to improve and hopefully play in a professional league soon.”


Biyana admits that over and above her challenging journey through injury to secure her place in the national team, balancing this all with her studies took its toll – almost to breaking point.


“Balancing football and my studies has been the hardest thing I've faced this year,” she concedes. “At some point I felt like quitting, but I believe quitters are losers.


“I've been away a lot with the national team, but I made sure that I arranged tests and exam dates with my lecturer before I left. I always make sure I study and submit my assignments even when I am at camp. I had to write my exams before leaving for the World Cup – four exams in two days – and fortunately I passed all of them. Planning ahead has definitely worked for me.”

Kholosa Biyana during a Napoli training session

Following last month’s trip to France, Biyana must now readjust and adapt to her new teammates as she readies herself for her second Summer Universiade, this time as skipper of her team. Her student teammates will no doubt look upon their talented captain for inspiration on the football pitches in Napoli, yet despite being the undoubted star in the team, Biyana is quick to shy away from the spotlight.


“As the captain, I never put pressure on myself,” she says. “It's not about me, it's about the team. We always work together to produce positive results.”


Biyana will have plenty of support though, with her student team including four other senior national team players who were in South Africa’s squad at the World Cup, including reserve goalkeeper Mapaseka Mpuru, defender Bongeka Gamede, midfielder Ongeziwe Ndlangisa and forward Amanda Mthandi, as well as the national team’s assistant coach Thinasonke Mbuli, who is Biyana’s head coach at University of KwaZulu-Natal.


Biyana feels the senior players’ experience of playing together at previous tournaments, as well as their exploits at the FIFA World Cup, will put them in good stead in Napoli.


“We have played together in the CUCSA team, some were in the Universiade team in 2017 and I play with others in the national team,” she says. “We are hoping that the experience we got at the World Cup will help the team do better than the previous team with the guidance of the technical team.”


When asked about her team’s ambitions for Napoli, one would expect the established star to aim for a podium finish to better 2017’s fourth place finish, or target the Player of the Tournament prize.


Yet Biyana’s answer reveals her true nature as a role-model captain who is quick to put her teammates above herself, as she looks to inspire them beyond the whitewash on the football field.


“I am hoping to help the team make history,” she says. “It is my last Universiade, so I want to be an inspiration to my teammates who hopefully will be back at the next World Student Game. I’m also hoping to help them find and know why they play football.”

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