- South Africa’s match winner Thembi Kgatlana has heaped praise on her team-mates following Wednesday’s historic World Cup win over Italy.
- Kgatlana scored in the 92nd minute of the match to book Banyana Banyana a place in the last 16.
- The 27-year-old also revealed personal strife at the tournament and that she had “lost” three family members in the last three weeks.
Banyana Banyana hero Thembi Kgatlana hailed her team-mates after her 92nd winner against Italy in Wellington on Wednesday booked South Africa a spot in the last 16 of the FIFA World Cup.
Banyana won 3-2 in a pulsating match that see-sawed between both sides to make history and become the first South African side – male or female – to progress to the knockouts of a World Cup.
It will go down as one of the great moments in the country’s proud football history, and the enormity of the occasion was etched all over Kgatlana’s face as she gave her post-match television interview as stand-in captain on the night.
“I’m emotional,” she said.
“I’ve been in camp pushing every day. I chose to be with this team and we’ve got a lot of criticism.
“It’s football and it’s about who wants it the best.”
Kgatlana then revealed that, personally, she had endured an incredibly difficult few weeks that had threatened her participation at the World Cup.
“Over the last three weeks I’ve lost three family members. I could have gone home, but I chose to stay with my girls, because that’s how much it means,” she said.
“I’ve [also] come back from a very brutal injury and for me to be here and play for the country and represent every girl that wanted to be here and make history with the girls for South Africa, everyone deserves it.
“It was a team effort.
“We might have messed the two games up, but this one was something we had to dig deep for. The girls are happy and we have made history.”
Banyana lost 2-1 to Sweden in their opening Group G game before sacrificing a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 with Argentina in their second, and they had to beat Italy on Wednesday to stand any chance of progressing.
“We just told ourselves that we have to fight. We had nothing to lose. They came here with pressure because they are higher ranked than us,” said Kgatlana, who plays for Racing Louisville in the United States.
“We were the underdogs, and I think it worked perfectly for us. We knew that in terms of pace, they wouldn’t match us, and it’s something we capitalised on.”
Banyana will now take on the Netherlands in Sydney on Sunday. Kick-off is at 04:00 (SA time).