Sport

WOMEN’S WORLD CUP ANALYSIS

‘Breadwinner’ Hildah Magaia shines during Banyana’s historic march to glory

‘Breadwinner’ Hildah Magaia shines during Banyana’s historic march to glory
South Africa’s Hildah Magaia (left) has been sidelined through injury and will not face USA in the forthcoming friendlies. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Ritchie B. Tongo)

Banyana Banyana are into the knockout stages of the World Cup for the first time, in just their second appearance at the quadrennial soccer spectacle. A massive contributor to that milestone has been forward Hildah Magaia.

On a personal level, it’s been a magical year or so for Banyana Banyana forward Hildah Magaia. Fortunately for South Africa, the goal-getter’s success has also benefitted the country in continental and now international competition.

From scoring a brace in the final against Morocco to ensure South Africa won its first Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (Wafcon) title in 2022, to playing an equally integral role in South Africa’s historic Women’s World Cup campaign a year later, Magaia has been immense for South African soccer.

The Limpopo-born star’s latest contribution at the ongoing World Cup – co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand – saw South Africa earn three crucial points that boosted her country out of an extremely tough group.

Magaia scored and assisted as Banyana Banyana defeated Italy 3-2 to finish second behind Sweden and book a round-of-16 date with the Netherlands at 4am on Sunday (SA time).

Hildah Magaia of South Africa scores her team’s second goal during the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023 Group G match between South Africa and Italy at Wellington Regional Stadium on 2 August 2023 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo: Lars Baron / Getty Images)

“First of all, I just want to thank the almighty God for everything he has done for me. The talent he has given me. [I want to thank] the coaches for the opportunities they have given me. The trust they have in me,” Magaia said following her match-winning performance against Italy.

“They call me the ‘Breadwinner’. Without the breadwinner, there’s no bread. So, I had to provide the bread for the nation.”

The “Breadwinner”, who dons the colours of Sejong Sportstoto in the South Korean top flight, has shone alongside Thembi Kgatlana and Jermaine Seoposenwe in the attacking areas. Scotland-based playmaker Linda Motlhalo has also provided ample support for the lethal attacking trio.

Magaia may not remain in Asia for much longer following her World Cup exploits. But even if she does, the 28-year-old’s performances have brought her even closer to her dream of turning out for English side Chelsea one day.    

Reach for the stars

When the World Cup draw was made and South Africa was thrown into a challenging group against Sweden, one of the powerhouses and pioneers of women’s soccer, many were already drafting Banyana Banyana’s obituary for their second successive appearance at the showpiece.

The fact that they were also pitted against tricky opponents in the form of Argentina and Italy, on top of the Swedes, added fuel to the fire of the naysayers.

In fact – as Banyana Banyana fought against the South African Football Association (Safa) for the financial remuneration which they believed they deserved – one Safa national executive committee (NEC) member went as far as stating that the team was not worth its weight in gold.

Amid the pre-World Cup standoff, the SABC reported that Safa NEC member Monde Montshiwa had said Banyana Banyana would be “on holiday at the World Cup”.

Essentially, he was implying that the team had no right to expect what they were asking for from the association. That they were not up to much. That they were only at the Australia/New Zealand-hosted tournament to make up the numbers.

How they have proven him and a plethora of other detractors wrong. 

In just their second-ever World Cup appearance, Banyana Banyana are into the knockout round. It is a target the team had set for itself heading into the event

Despite losing a precious point and being defeated at the death following a valiant fight against Sweden in their opening Group G match, Banyana were more convincing and confident against Argentina.

However, in that second 2023 World Cup tie – where it seemed as if maximum points were in the bag for the reigning African champions – they again walked away with less than they deserved. They let slip a comfortable 2-0 lead to draw 2-2 with the South Americans.

Italian job

Against Italy, there was no room for error. It was do-or-die stuff. Win or head home. After a sensational slugfest for the neutrals against the Azzurre, Banyana Banyana showed they are not the current Queens of African soccer by accident.    

With midfield enforcer Kholosa Biyana suspended for the Italy clash after picking up two yellow cards, and captain Refiloe Jane sitting out the contest after she suffered a minor ankle injury against Argentina, South Africa’s squad was stretched in the middle of the pitch.

“We had no Refiloe Jane. We had no Kholosa Biyana. We played players out of position. But they’ve played there before. And it shows the warriors that these players are… it shows the resilience they have,” Desiree Ellis said in the post-match press conference.  

“I [told them that] we gave everything against Sweden. We gave everything against Argentina. But we’ve got to give more [against Italy]. I told them that we’ve got to give more. Because it’s about how badly you want this. And they wanted it so bad,” Ellis added. 

Hildah Magaia of South Africa during the Cosafa Women’s Championship match between South Africa and Madagascar at Wolfson Stadium on 5 August 2019 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. (Photo: Richard Huggard / Gallo Images)

The Banyana coach has had to field questions on why goalkeeper Kaylin Swart has been preferred, in place of regular No 1 Andile Dlamini. The latter played two of South Africa’s three games in 2019. 

Four years later – Dlamini, who was also crowned Wafcon goalkeeper of the tournament last year, is yet to see action in her second World Cup.

Though the Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies goalkeeper is the better shot-stopper, Ellis has said Swart is more adept with the ball at her feet – a crucial skill considering that Banyana Banyana are lethal on the counterattack.     

“You’ve got to stay true to who you are. You’ve got to make sure that when you make a decision, you stand by it,” Ellis said.

“If it doesn’t work, then I’m a bad coach. If it works, I made a masterstroke. So, I take the good with the bad. Because football is a matter of opinions. You cannot change how people think and what people say. But we trust the process and that’s the most important thing,” Ellis added.

Now the South Africans’ focus shifts to their round of 16 opponents – the Netherlands. The last time the two teams faced off was in April 2022, in a friendly. The duel ended with the Dutch destroying Banyana 5-1.

The upcoming clash is unlikely to be as one-sided this time. Especially with the South Africans riding the momentum of their historic win over Italy. DM

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