The COSAFA region will have not one but two sides competing in the women’s football tournament for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
This after both Zimbabwe and South Africa qualified for the finals competition as Africa’s two representatives, the first time two nations from Southern Africa have reached the same Olympic tournament.
For South Africa it is a return to the competition after they played in London in 2012, while Zimbabwe make a first ever appearance.
South Africa qualified after they defeated Equatorial Guinea 1-0 on aggregate, while Zimbabwe edged Cameroon on away goals after the teams played to a 2-2 draw in their final round qualifier.
South Africa captain Janine van Wyk shares her thoughts on their qualification and what it means to the country.
SAFA: What is there to say, how are you feeling at this moment?
Janine van Wyk: Oh my word, I don’t even know what to say. I don’t know how I feel, it’s an indescribable feeling that I am experiencing at the moment. I am so happy, you have no idea. This team has done so well, we have worked so hard and we really deserve this.
Firstly, I must give credit to all my teammates who went out there and gave their all and that is why we came out victorious. We knew what a tough task it was going to be and we knew what was required of us, but we managed to stay together, keep motivated together. This was a really good win, everything went according to plan and everyone was just confident.
The feeling of belief among the players before the game was something I have never seen before and before we went out to play I said to them this is our time, we need to go to the Olympics. We lost out on the World Cup last year and at the All Africa Games, but there was something bigger waiting for us and that was the Olympic Games. So I am over the moon, it’s an incredible feeling and now I know we can go home and celebrate but more hard work lies ahead of us for the Olympics. We are looking forward to it.
Your second Olympic Games qualification in a row, this must be a good feeling?
Yes, there are a couple of players who have been the Olympics already, and there are also those who will be going for the first time. Having played at the 2012 London Olympic Games, as a team it will show how much we have progressed since then. Next year it will be interesting to see and compare the level that we are at competing against some of the best in the world. I believe South Africa has talent and can compete with international teams. It will also be a way for us to challenge ourselves to check what strides forward we have made. We can’t wait to start preparations for Rio.
It has been an incredible journey, you never lost a match in a the qualifiers …
Yes, we have come a long way indeed. This team has put in the time, hard work, effort and sacrifices to qualify for the Olympic Games, and I can safely say it’s all over now and we really deserve this reward. From day one when the coach started with us she said we want to get to the Olympic Games because we missed out on something big – the World Cup – so we also wanted to do it for her.
We didn’t want to see her leave had we not qualified and it would have been like Banyana Banyana have done and achieved nothing, even though we know as players how much she has done for women’s football in South Africa and how much she has changed this team for the better. We now play good football, and she brings out the best in every player so we have to give credit as well.
We are going to the Olympics with her by our side and with her experience I will not surprised if we do really well because our aim is to get out of the group stages as we did not in 2012. There are a lot things lying ahead of us, and what we still want to achieve but for now we are happy with what we have done and we need to celebrate it.
What also makes this victory so sweet as well is that our history with Equatorial Guinea is not the best as we have always come second best …
I am extremely happy about that. In 2008 we played in the final of the African Women’s Championship (AWC) and we lost to them 3-1. We travelled to them in 2012 after beating Nigeria for the very first time and, understandably so, our emotions were on a high after that achievement, we played Equatorial Guinea two days after and they beat us 4-0, and everyone was asking if we would ever overcome them as they seemed to have the better of us.
So here we are, we proved everyone wrong. We were strong as a team and we believed in ourselves and we knew we were capable of beating them. We saw in the first leg that we could actually defeat them because we were on top and dominated play. That is exactly what we did in the second leg – bar some nerves we created some chances and could have scored early on. We went really strong at them, and we fought hard. We did it and I am extremely proud of the team.
Congratulatory messages have been coming in thick and fast…
We would like to thank everyone who stayed positive for us and believed in us. Many have been sending us good luck messages and we appreciate all of that. This team would not have achieved this great feat without the support of the country. We have proved that we are capable of winning things, we have also proved that we are one of the best sporting codes in South Africa, and all this done with a huge support from everyone. We are keeping women’s football up there and hopefully there will be professional leagues that come with this feat in the next few years. I want to believe women’s football deserves more than they have at the moment.
Does this qualification erase the pain of not going to the World Cup?
Oh yes it does, because we missed out on a huge event, and this comes very close to that as we will also get to play international teams. This is the next big event that we could have qualified for and we have done it.