From heartache to jubilation — fully recovered Gabriela Salgado now focused on World Cup glory

From heartache to jubilation — fully recovered Gabriela Salgado now focused on World Cup glory
Gabriela Salgado of South Africa during the Cosafa Women's Championship match between South Africa and Malawi at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on 28 September 2021 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. (Photo: Richard Huggard / Gallo Images)

After recovering from an injury that ruled her out of Banyana’s successful Women’s Africa Cup of Nations campaign in 2022, forward Gabriela Salgado has fully recovered and is ready to play her part in the upcoming World Cup.

A year ago, Banyana Banyana forward Gabriela Salgado was nursing a broken heart and a fractured collarbone. The former was a direct result of the latter.

This as the injury forced coach Desiree Ellis to withdraw the diminutive attacker from her Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (Wafcon) plans. It was a massive blow for the left-footed forward, who was eyeing the tournament as her first major one as a senior. 

“It was very disappointing. Heartbreaking. I got injured two days before we had to go into camp,” Salgado told Daily Maverick before South Africa’s senior women’s soccer side departed for this year’s Fifa World Cup, which will be co-hosted by New Zealand and Australia.   

The 25-year-old described the experience of watching her teammates reach the gold standard and win the continental contest for the first time in their history as a “hard” one. Before adding that, ultimately, she was elated to see them bring the Wafcon trophy to South Africa for the first time in history.

“It was very tough for me to accept that I’d be missing out and not going with the team to Wafcon. Especially as I was part of the team. Going through the preparations, qualifying and all of that. I had put in a lot of work to be part of that team,” shared Salgado.  

“[Ultimately], they made everyone proud. They came back as African champions.”

Gabriela Salgado

Gabriela Salgado of South Africa during the Cosafa Women’s Championship match against Malawi at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on 28 September 2021 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. (Photo: Richard Huggard / Gallo Images)

Time flies

Of course, injuries are part and parcel of sport. Though ones that come before major tournaments always sting more. Nonetheless, the Johannesburg-born star says the unfortunate experience has built her as a player and taken her game to the next level.

“My injury is behind me. I’ve moved on. It’s been a year now. I don’t hold on to things that happened in the past. I grew from that,” shared Salagado, who dons the colours of JVW in the Hollywoodbets Super League, South Africa’s topflight.

“I’m in a very good space at the moment. I’m feeling good on the field with JVW. I’ve been doing my best. Scoring goals and getting back to what I do best as a player.”

Johannesburg native Salgado — who was born and raised in the city to a father of Portuguese descent and a mother with roots in Lebanon — has represented SA at all levels internationally.

In recent years, she has become a mainstay in the Banyana setup. Now she is part of the team that will be aiming to rewrite history in the New Zealand and Australia showpiece over the next few weeks.

“I’m so excited and honoured to be part of the squad going to the World Cup. It’s something that every girl dreams of and I’m out here living my dream. I really can’t wait for the tournament to start,” Salgado told Daily Maverick.

With the standard and quality of women’s soccer constantly improving, the task of picking the final players to jet off Down Under proved particularly challenging for Banyana coach Ellis and her technical team. Something which Salgado acknowledged.

“Making the final 23 was tight, but I’m just happy that I made the squad. Hopefully, at the World Cup we can go and showcase our talents, and make the country proud,” stated Salgado.

Gabriela Salgado

Gabriela Salgado of South Africa on the offensive during the 2022 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations, Qualifier match between South Africa and Mozambique at FNB Stadium on 26 October 2021 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo: Sydney Seshibedi / Gallo Images)

Big dreams

Of course, in spite of the tight competition for game time at the tournament, the JVW attacker is not heading there just to twiddle her thumbs on the bench. She is looking to accumulate as many minutes as possible under her belt.

This attitude will be important as Ellis needs every player to step up at the tournament. The South Africans only made their debut at the global soccer spectacle four years ago, finishing at the bottom of their group with no points from their three matches played.

In their second appearance, they are in an even more challenging mini league. They are grouped with third-ranked Sweden, as well as Italy and Argentina. Both nations are ranked in the top 30 in the latest Fifa rankings. Banyana are 54th.     

“We know that we have a tough group. But in football, it’s a game of 90 minutes and anything can happen. I mean, look at Morocco in the men’s World Cup, how far they went [against all odds],” Salgado told Daily Maverick.

“It comes down to belief. I feel that we have a good team around us, our technical staff has been beefed up. We have good players. We have a solid team that’s united. A team that knows what we want to go out there and achieve,” the fleet-footed forward continued.

“We just need to take it each game at a time. Anyway, playing against the best in the world only makes us better. We’re going there to learn and to gain experience. And, obviously, to do our very best and get as far as we can.”

As one of the most respected players in the Banyana side, who has yet to taste the joys and rigours of playing overseas, Salgado is also eyeing the tournament as a springboard to reaching those heights.

Such motivation and hunger can only bode well for the team as they embark on the difficult task that awaits, and aim to prove their detractors wrong while making the country proud. DM


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