Over a decade ago former South Africa coach Fran Hilton-Smith was tipped off about a player in the remote town of Kwaggafontein in the Mpumalanga province in the nation’s north-east. The location could not have been more unlikely. “It was a dusty sandy field, in a little village in the back of beyond,” Hilton-Smith told FIFA.com. “The player I went to see was okay but ‘Phumi’ (Nyandeni) impressed me right off. She had skill, great vision, and more, and I immediately asked her to come to our academy.”
Fast forward to the present day and that rough diamond has been polished up into a shining star. So much so that Nyandeni is now a key component as South Africa’s Class of 2014 aim to create history by qualifying for their maiden FIFA Women’s World Cup™.
The date with destiny for Banyana Banyana – as the team are affectionately known – looms large. Three African qualifiers for Canada 2015 will be known within a matter of weeks. And in many ways it appears that this is the time for South Africa to finally conquer their Everest.
South Africa fell agonisingly shy of qualification four years ago, losing in extra time in the semi-final against Equatorial Guinea. Indeed, Equatorial Guinea have been South Africa’s nemesis in each of the past three CAF African Women’s Championships. This time, however, there will be no such occurrence with Nzalang Nacional suffering a surprise early exit at the hands of Cote d'Ivoire. The upcoming tournament, which will be held in neighbouring Namibia, also has an extra Women’s World Cup slot available for an African representative in comparison to Germany 2011.
Two years ago South Africa played in their maiden global tournament, when they featured at the 2012 London Olympics where they performed credibly. And, with vastly experienced former Netherlands coach Vera Pauw at the helm, Nyandeni believes that this is the best South Africa team assembled over the course of her seven-year international career.
“So far so good,” Nyandeni tells FIFA.com when asked about the team’s preparations. “I think we are looking sharp and looking good for this tournament. I’m confident of my team. I trust my team-mates.
“I would be very happy to qualify, having already been to the Olympics,” continues the 27-year-old affectionately known as Mbusi. “It is exciting, and our dream to play in the World Cup. If we qualify we hope that many doors will be opened up for players to play overseas. If I have the chance to play in another country, I would like to do that.”
The road less travelled
To say the likelihood of a South African female footballer hailing from the remote Nkangala District making the move to Russia is somewhat unlikely, would be an understatement of significant proportions. That, however, is exactly what Nyandeni did. And she did it with great success too, both on and off the field.
Nyandeni spent the best part of four years in Moscow playing for crack local outfit Rossiyanka. A constant presence on the scoresheet, Nyandeni collected a couple of league titles and helped her side reach the UEFA Women’s Champions League quarter-finals.
“When I first went to Russia it was very difficult for me because they don’t speak English, and it is hard for me to speak Russian. But within a year I learnt Russian,” the shy Nyandeni reveals.
“I missed my family, my friends and food. But it was a nice experience ... (to experience) the weather, the food and people. I learned a lot of things in Russia, and became stronger physically and mentally.”