Banyana Banyana captain Janine van Wyk shares her thoughts in her exclusive column in SoccerClub magazine.
The Olympic Games were the most amazing experience from start to finish, even if we left without making it to the next round. It was the conclusion of eight months of blood, sweat and tears as we sacrificed so much before it all ended too soon.
Looking back, it was a tough journey for us; hard work on a daily basis, meeting after meeting, watching videos and analysing our opponents, travelling from one place to another for friendly games … all to prepare us for something millions of other athletes only dream of – participating in the Olympic Games.
I’ll never forget the hype of touching down in Rio, staying in the athletes’ village and experiencing the dining hall, which was brilliant. There were so many athletes from around the world and it was great to watch everyone and try to guess what sports they participated in.
I had an opportunity to meet stars like Rafael Nadal, Usain Bolt, Caroline Wozniacki, Wayde van Niekerk, Francois Hougaard and, of course, Marta and the Brazilian team as well as the Swedish team; people I’ve always looked up to.
The pre-game jitters before our first group match against Sweden were compounded when we kicked off and immediately felt the pressure of playing a strong team. It was probably the toughest football match I have ever played in. We were well organised and made it pretty difficult for them to break us down.
In the end, one mistake cost us a point and we were so unlucky after putting in a great performance. The Brazilian crowd was phenomenal that day, getting behind South Africa and chanting ‘Africa! Africa! Africa!’ as we passed the ball around.
We were ready for China in our next match but we underestimated them and nothing worked for us that day. We created a goal-scoring opportunity early on and another two chances after that, but we still couldn’t put the ball in the back of the net. I had to make a few goal-saving challenges but we weren’t at the top of our game and lost the match.
By that stage we had been knocked out of the Games but still had our match against the hosts. Playing them on their turf was one of the most amazing, unforgettable moments I’ve experienced in my career. The atmosphere in a 44 000-seater stadium filled with Brazilians who had got behind their team from the moment they sung the national anthem until the end of the match, was unbelievable.
We managed a 0-0 draw in a tough match and it was one to remember after competing against five-time Ballon d’Or winner Marta and her team. Even though we didn’t make it out of our group or win a gold medal, we put in some great performances for the world to see what women’s football in South Africa is about.
We have such talent in our country and it is unfortunate we aren’t able to expose it as much as we would like to, but we hope the show we put on at the Olympics has opened doors for us. After that, many doors will be open for the world to come to South Africa and scout for talent.
About Van Wyk
Banyana Banyana captain Janine van Wyk is the most capped South African footballer of all time with over 130 caps. Her foundation, the JVW Football Development, aims to develop young female footballers and improve all aspects of the women’s game at grassroots level.
– This article first appeared in issue 73 of SoccerClub magazine.
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