Thembi Kgatlana has become a household name in Women's football. Photo: Ryan Wilkisky BackpagePix
One of the many things I love about Banyana Banyana’s rising star Thembi Kgatlana is the similarities she shares with Bafana Bafana’s legendary marksman Benni McCarthy.
Let me put it this way: Thembi and Benni were just born to score goals. These are two footballers from two different generations, both prominent around the globe because of their finishing prowess – both lethal in front of goals. Their similarity is knowing where the back of the net is, and how to get the ball in there. Like I said, born to score goals.
Benni first made a name for himself at the 1998 Africa Cup of Nations in Burkina Faso. His exploits dazzled those at the continent’s biggest showpiece (just like Thembi) and the star was born. He was chosen as the best player in the tournament (just like Thembi) and finished level as top goal scorer with the legendary Egyptian striker, Hossam Hassan.
Benni netted seven strikes (Thembi scored five last year). From there on Benni never looked back. He went on to play for top European clubs like Ajax Amsterdam and FC Porto. Until today he is still the only SA player to be a Uefa Champions League winner. He also still holds the record for the most number of goals in Bafana colours with 31 strikes.
Benni rose to prominence back in 1998 and the rise and the best of Thembi was on display in 2018. The brilliance of McCarthy was during the Afcon in Burkina Faso and the vigilant displays of Kgatlane was in the Afcon in Ghana.
Benni finished as top goal-scorer during the Afcon in Burkina Faso and so did Thembi in Ghana.
When Benni broke through, he was still trying to establish himself in Europe. Thembi is also still trying to establish herself overseas, but in the United States. See what I mean about similarities?
Thembi Kgatlana was a big winner at the CAF awards. Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix
I believe Thembi is the real deal. She has proven time and time again that she thrives in pressure situations.
When Banyana require a hero or any source of inspiration they now have Thembi. She will always come to their rescue. Remember the stunner against Nigeria. Her long-range shot from an acute angle really was something to drool over, especially as it was against the Super Falcons.
In the past, when Banyana needed some magic, they would turn to Portia Modise. Now they have Thembi.
At just 22 years of age, she still has plenty of football ahead of herself. She is destined for greatness. Egypt have their son in Mohamed Salah and South Africa have their daughter in Thembi.
Give Thembi space on the field and she will hurt you. She doesn’t only have an eye for goal but she has the nose for goals. She smells them. On top of that, she has a great feel for the game and is very seldom caught offside, which is the sign of a really intelligent player.
I hope she stays injury free for much of her career. In years to come Thembi could well be challenging for the accolade of Women’s World Footballer of the Year. They say if you can dream it, then you can achieve it. Thembi has the potential to challenge the likes of Marta (the current Footballer of the Year from Brazil) and Carli LIoyd (2016 winner).
Obviously there are still areas of Thembi’’s game that need some refinements. She is not yet a completely polished article. She is pacey, skilful and deadly but she still needs to work on her aerial presence and the ability to use her left foot. If she can master those she will be the finished product.
But the fact that she won the African Footballer of the Year while she is still trying to find herself says a lot about her ability. Competing in major tournaments will also make her a better player. The World Cup will be a great stage for her and I’m convinced Banyana will qualify for the Olympic Games in Tokyo next year.
Thembi has shown many young South African girls that nothing is impossible if you give it your all. I really enjoyed the fact that when she was named Women’s African Player of the Year on Monday, she dedicated it to every young South African girl. She’s turning on the magic at the age of 22.
The World Cup is where football’s greatest dreams are made. Banyana are in Group B with Spain, Germany and the Republic of China and this is a great chance for Thembi to make an even bigger name for herself.
Benni became the first South African to score at the World Cup in 1998 in France. He netted in a 1-1 stalemate against Denmark. I have no doubt Thembi will become the first female player to score at the World Cup for Banyana.
By 25,Thembi will have competed in two Afcons, a World Cup and the Olympics Games. It was the same story with Benni. Also at 25, he had competed in the biggest showpiece on earth, Afcon and the 2000 Sydney Olympics. That equipped him to win the Uefa Champions League with FC Porto in 2004.
My wish for Thembi is that she wins as many medals as Benni. I’m sure she can do it!
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