Nomathemba Ntsibande was over the moon in September last year when her name was announced in the Banyana Banyana squad that was to travel to Namibia for the 2014 AWC.

Nomathemba Ntsibande was over the moon in September last year when her name was announced in the Banyana Banyana squad that was to travel to Namibia for the 2014 African Women’s Championship.

But a few days later joy turned into sorrow when, a day before departure (5 October) to Namibia, she suffered a hamstring injury and had to withdraw from the team.

Months after being on the sidelines, the Springs Home Sweepers defender is back in the team and enjoying every minute of it.

She is in the squad that is in Gabon to face the host nation in the first leg of an Olympic qualifier, which will take place on Saturday, 23 May in the capital Libreville.

Kickoff is at 15h30 local time in Gabon (16h30 SA time).

“It really feels good to be back after such a long time out with injury. It is really an honour to come and represent my country at this level and I am glad to be back,” said Ntsibande after their first training session in Gabon.

“Of course I missed the action. It is always hard having to sit at home and watch the action from far while you can’t be part of the squad as you are recuperating from an injury. But I was always with the team in spirit and made sure I follow every game and give them my support. I love the spirit that prevails in the team – all the players still pushing hard for their places and very competitive, which helps the team in return.”

Banyana Banyana head coach Vera Pauw sang her praises earlier in the week.

“Nomathemba has become very strong again after her injury and she is back in the mix – in fact she has selected herself,” said Pauw.

It was not the first setback she had suffered as a player.

After helping Banyana Banyana qualify for the 2012 London Olympic Games, she was not part of the travelling party, again due to injury. The coaches at the time tried to buy time so she can heal but it was to be and had to miss out, together with influential midfielder Yola Japhta.

“I was deeply hurt to have to miss that tournament due to injury and I told myself that these things happen in the game. But when I could not go Namibia, it really put me down. But I have since recovered and hopefully nothing happens,” added the defender.

Banyana Banyana will tackle Gabon at the Stade Augustin Monedan in Libreville.

“It is going to be a tough game, we don’t know much about them but we are focusing on our preparations, which are going well. So we will be ready for them and we are confident we will do well. Having missed out on the last Olympics Games in London, I would really love to ensure that we do well as a team and perhaps I also get a chance to go to Rio next year for the Games. I think it is also important that we qualify so we can show that going to London in 2012 was not a fluke,” said Ntsibande, otherwise known as Lanka in the team.

She says as players they should not focus on where they are playing – whether home or away in the first leg.

“To be honest it doesn’t matter, it is all about the results on the day. We must just make sure we win both legs then we won’t have any worries. If you start thinking about whether you are home first or second, it will play mind games on you and you might not achieve your objective. For us the focus is winning to ensure we proceed to the next round, nothing else is important,” she concluded.

South Africa will host Gabon a week later – on Sunday, 31 May at the Dobsonville Stadium.