SA women footballers score string of firsts

Banyana Banyana star Linda Motlhalo is the latest South African footballer to make headlines in Europe, joining no less than 14 national women’s stars who ply their trade globally.

The dribbling wizard has just been unveiled as the Djurgardens IF’s Newcomer of the Year, for her outstanding performances since joining the club in January last year. 

The flying start to her journey with the Swedish-based outfit has seen her tally four goals in 22 appearances across all competitions, a remarkable feat for a midfielder.

At 22, Motlhalo has made huge strides in her rising international career, having previously played in the United States for Houston Dash and in China for Beijing Phoenix.

“I have played in three different countries/leagues, which is USA, China and now Sweden. It is a privilege, because I got to experience these different levels/leagues, and I guess I had to experience such, so at the end I get to play in a league which will be more suitable for me,” Motlhalo said when she moved to the club a year ago. 

The Randfontein-born star’s latest feat comes hot on the heels of noteworthy performances by her national teammates.

Jermaine Seoposenwe — playing for SC Braga in Portugal — is the talk of the town after becoming the first female player from South Africa to score a brace in an International Cup final, when Braga beat Benfica 3-1 to win the Portuguese Women’s earlier this month.

Lethal striker Ode Fulutudilu has also been a sensation on the international scene recently, assisting Aland United in Finland to a league and cup domestic double, becoming champions for the first time in seven years before announcing her new signing at Scotland’s Glasgow City FC, alongside long-time Banyana Banyana skipper Janine van Wyk, in December last year.

The first headline-grabbing international signing by a South African woman was when Texas-based Houston Dash signed the South African defender for their National Women’s Soccer League campaign, in December 2016. 

All told, Van Wyk turned out in 17 appearances for the University-based team, and was the first of other South African players picked up by Dash, including Motlhalo and Thembi Kgatlana, where former national coach Vera Pauw was key in elevating South African talent into the American league.

The trend of South African players being noticed received a jump-start in August 2018, when national football duo, Refiloe Jane and Rhoda Mulaudzi, joined Canberra United in Australia for Season 11 of the Westfield W-League, becoming the first South Africans to play in the league since its inception in 2008.

Jane made headlines again in 2019 when she made her historic move to Italy to become the first South African woman to sign for a top Italian side. Jane’s team are currently in the running for the Serie A Women’s League title.

In Spain, Kgatlana continues with her superstar performances for SD Eibar, while countrymate, Noko Matlou recently made her debut after signing for the club in October last year. 

The result of the meteoric rise of South African women footballers in the past year has continued to open doors for upcoming stars, with U20 Women’s National team player Sinoxolo Cesane the newest export to USA-based East Tennessee State University on a scholarship, where she will play in the university league.

This article is part of a collaboration between the M&G and gsport, a platform dedicated to journalism about women in sport

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Celine Abrahams
Celine Abrahams is the newsroom and social media manager at gsport.

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