Banyana Banyana head coach Vera Pauw was very emotional when she described how her players came to the party when it mattered most.

Banyana Banyana head coach Vera Pauw was very emotional when she described how her players came to the party when it mattered most.

The South African Senior Women’s National Team defied the odds to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games in Brazil.

She spoke to SAFA Media before boarding a plane to her home in the Netherlands.

Matlhomola Morake: Has it sunk in yet?

Vera Pauw: No, not yet, I feel like I am dreaming. The feeling we had after the game was just phenomenal, and after all that hard work I must say that after all the bad luck, all the cheating, all the bad refereeing, things have finally turned our way.

We took the matters into our own hands and did it our way. The players fought throughout the game, together with the bench players. The way they behaved was something special, even those on the bench. I am very proud of this team, not forgetting the support staff, it’s indescribable what they do for this team.

MM: You were crying after the match, were those tears of joy?

VP: Yes it was tears of knowing why I live on the other side of the world away from my family and my husband it is not always easy. At that moment I realised that this is what it’s all about.

MM: And how was the final match of qualification in your view?

VP: Very tense, the emotions were up and that is why tears just rolled down. It was very intense because it was not all that easy. The players needed a lot of direction because we had to change the team formations a few times to have answers for them. Our players are more mature already, as they knew how to handle them.
They already know the different formations and their tasks in those formations that is something really special, we worked so hard on them to become flexible so that we have an answer. We are tiny frogs so we had to react otherwise we will be overrun by those big forces and the strategy and the tactical insight of the players has grown so much in a year that I was very confident.

MM: Despite all the mishaps, you haven’t lost in the qualifiers?

VP: We did have some problems in scoring recently, and that was the only doubt for us. Again we could have scored more against Equatorial Guinea but one was enough. We knew that if we scored one, they will not score because we are so far ahead with our organisation that we can stop an opponent from scoring, that is why the explosion was huge (when I jumped into the air, and I was captured airborne) At that moment when we scored I knew we have it in the bag, there was no way they were going to score twice against us.

MM: First 45 minutes no goals, what goes on in your mind?

VP: If you noticed we changed the formation halfway in the first half because we were not in control at all but we knew we were going to get a goal, so we changed it to 1-3-5-2 to get extra back up so we can get to the interval. At the break we set things right and I think the second half while they were dangerous in patches we dominated, and it was our will on the pitch.

MM: You have always been confident that playing away, however difficult it may be, Banyana Banyana will get a goal, and it has happened – against Gabon, Kenya and Equatorial Guinea.

VP: It was hard work for everybody because it was too much thinking and planning, not much sleep but we were always confident that we would get everything right in time. The USA-based players had to be included into the system because there was a doubt about their availability until the last moment, which affected the planning of the final line-up we were going to use.
Robyn Moodaly joined the party just in time and all the pieces of the puzzle fell into place at the right time. I am so happy and proud the way the whole team performed, players have grown over the last few months and I think after the game there was no division among the staff and players – we celebrated as one at the final whistle, and that for me is something special.

MM: Before the match talk all week was about Banyana Banyana failing to qualify for the World Cup, which I think, drained everyone, does this victory erase all of that?

VP: There are two sides to that question – yes and no. No because this was not payback for not reaching the World Cup, it is revenge against all the cheating against us and also against the bad vibes from all the people who did not want to see us succeed. It is not revenge on the World Cup because the Olympic Games is a completely different tournament and there are 12 teams going there, and we are among them, and that is something to be proud of.

MM: This team has improved a lot, but the question is can we get to the next level especially now that we are going to the Olympics where will find stronger teams?

VP: We actually need to see if we have reached our ceiling already. It is true that we have grown a lot over the last few months compared to last year and I still don’t see the ceiling yet, but it will be more and more difficult to make the steps further up.

So we do need a very good programme and planning – but I need to emphasise that if we want to get to the World Cup then we need a national league because SAFA cannot keep on investing this much into a team whereas the players that have to come in they have to be fit in regularly but they don’t come through the competition system. They come through the youth teams and there must also be stream coming from the competition and it can only be done with a national league.

MM: It’s been a hectic few months, where to next?

VP: First I am going away for a few weeks. I will be doing a talk on how I approach football as a tool not only to win games but also to develop as an individual, and to create equal opportunities for girls and women to succeed in the sport, and by doing that to grow in their lives by getting education. I have been asked to speak about, so that’s my next huge challenge became it is very big.

MM: And when does planning start for the Olympics?

VP: NOW, there is no time to waste. We have only nine months to prepare so we don’t have enough time. There is a lot to be done and we need to start right away. But I am say what I felt this week I have never felt before in my life, and I will always treasure this feeling wherever I go.