A year ago, on June 8, Banyana Banyana made their Fifa Women’s World Cup debut against Spain. But the big day ended in 3-1 defeat.
The game was marked by two penalties against Banyana, a red card for defender Nothando Vilakazi and a goal by Thembi Kgatlana in the match. The clash against Spain was Banyana’s tenth last year.
This was Spain’s fourth World Cup match and they were searching for their first win.
Spain made their debut at Canada 2015, drawing 1-1 against Costa Rica.
Here, Banyana captain Janine van Wyk recalls their maiden World Cup finals:
“Although we look back at all the fantastic memories and unforgettable experiences of such a historic event for women’s football in South Africa, it still feels so surreal to me,’ said Van Wyk reliving the memories.
“A life-long dream that I had since childhood to now being my biggest highlight of my football journey. The 2019 World Cup was a phenomenal experience to be part of. The moment we arrived in France, one could already feel the hair standing up on the back of your neck and feeling the exhilaration of being part of something so extraordinary, a feeling that not every athlete gets to experience.
“Participating and representing your country in such a World Class event was a dream come true. Leading my team out for the first time in a World Cup was a very emotional moment for me. I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be the one taking this role on such a big stage.
“At that moment, I couldn’t feel any part of my body – it was so numb from the disbelief that I was actually living my biggest dream. I remember concentrating really hard to hold back my tears of joy and pride. I had flashbacks of my football journey leading up to this very moment. All the obstacles, challenges, setbacks and odds that were against me throughout my career, were all worth it that moment in time.
“I couldn’t sing the National Anthem as loud and proud as I would’ve wanted, because the lump in my throat was so big that if I had sung wholeheartedly, I would’ve burst out in tears right before the most important match of my football career, and I believe that some of my teammates felt exactly the same,” she remembers.
“Looking back at our three games, we know we probably could’ve done better – but at the same time I know for a fact that we gave our utmost best.
“It’s easy for anyone to say we should’ve done better or prepared harder, but no one will ever understand how tough it is for any top athlete to deal with the pressure bubble that we were in, that could jeopardize our performance starting with:
“A debut tournament; Facing teams and players you once idolized; The crowd and spectators watching your every move; Criticism and negative feedback from the outsiders that one has to work hard on to block out.
“It’s not easy being a top athlete, and certainly not when you have to be on top of your game at the highest stage in your career.
“Today I sit back and think of all the memories and World Cup experiences, and even though we failed to win a single match or reach the next round, I still am proud to say that we gave our absolute best, we represented South Africa with pride and dignity.
“We put our name on the map and we showed the World that we have extraordinary talent in our country, and that we will return to play at the World’s biggest stage again one day. That is my World Cup story.”