Sport

WOMEN’S WORLD CUP PROFILE

Rising star Wendy Shongwe aims to shine and soak up lessons from Banyana squad

Rising star Wendy Shongwe aims to shine and soak up lessons from Banyana squad
Wendy Shongwe during Banyana Banyana training on 20 July 2023 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo: Sydney Mahlangu / BackpagePix)

University of Pretoria’s 20-year-old forward Wendy Shongwe is living her dream just by being part of Banyana Banyana’s World Cup squad. Nevertheless, she hopes to learn as much as possible during the tournament.

Born in Mpumalanga, but raised in the Gauteng township of Daveyton, Banyana Banyana forward Wendy Shongwe currently finds herself in New Zealand. The experience alone is seventh heaven for her.

The uncapped 20-year-old torments defenders on behalf of the University of Pretoria (Tuks) in the Hollywoodbets Super League. In fact, Shongwe’s goals are a large part of why Tuks finds itself sitting sixth in South Africa’s top-flight league, in its debut season.

At the moment the young goal-getter is part of South Africa’s senior women’s squad that is slugging it out with Sweden (whom Banyana narrowly lost to during their opening Fifa Women’s World Cup fixture), Argentina and Italy in Group G.

“Hearing my name being called as part of the final 23 World Cup squad brought me so much joy. At the same time I was anxious because the World Cup is a massive stage, with some of the best players in the world. But I am very happy to be part of the team’s journey,” Shongwe told Daily Maverick.

“It’s a reward for all my hard work over the last few months. And I’m just glad that my hard work is paying off.”

The ambition for the team is to qualify for the knockout stages in their sophomore World Cup. To do this, they must earn positive results in their final two fixtures in the group phase.

A positive result in either match will be historic for the South Africans nevertheless. This as they chase their first points in the quadrennial soccer spectacle.

During their World Cup debut in 2019, Banyana Banyana lost all three of their group games – falling to Spain, China and two-time world champions Germany.

Wendy Shongwe during a Banyana training session on 25 June 2023 at UJ Sports Grounds. (Photo: Sydney Mahlangu / BackpagePix)

Athletics star

At that time, Shongwe was in Grade 11. She had no idea that she’d be part of the team’s second-ever World Cup experience. In fact, at the time her focus was fully on athletics.

So invested was she in track running that she managed to bag bronze at the 2017 South African School Championships, claiming the medal in the 800m race.

However, Shongwe had made a promise to her father Collied Mathabathe that she would find her way to soccer again. Eventually, she lived up to that promise in 2021, finding her way onto the pitch once more. Even if under unfortunate circumstances globally.

“Soccer has always been a passion and my first love. When the Covid-19 pandemic happened, I had to reassess my options. Because I put on a lot of weight during the subsequent lockdown. So, I retransitioned to soccer,” Shongwe said to Daily Maverick.

“My mother was an athlete and she helped hone my running skills during my high school days. My father loved soccer. He’d even come watch me when I played in the street. He’d tell me, ‘My child, you’re a great soccer player’. He’s always wanted me to play soccer,” Shongwe added.   

Here she is now. Even though her chances of pushing aside the likes of Thembi Kgatlana, Jermaine Seoposenwe, Hildah Magaia and Gabriela Salgado to start are minimal – the forward is embracing the rare World Cup experience.

A large number of her teammates grew up idolising trailblazers of SA women’s soccer – such as coach Desiree Ellis, the influential Portia Modise and Veronica Phewa. Now, she is in their shoes and also has the privilege to play alongside some of her own idols.

‘Inspiring’ to play alongside her idols

“Rubbing shoulders with people like [Banyanya captain Refiloe Jane] and Thembi is really inspiring. These are people that I grew up watching and looking up to,” Shongwe told Daily Maverick.  

“So, to play with them now means so much to me. They motivate me as a young player, directly and indirectly. They tell me to just play my game and be comfortable, while absorbing the instructions of the coaches.”

No doubt, she will learn many things during this experience – even if she ends up not playing a single minute in New Zealand and Australia. Because, if she continues on her current trajectory, Shongwe is destined to be one of the country’s soccer stars. DM

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