16 September 2017 – Nothando Vilakazi celebrated her 100th cap for the Sasol-sponsored Banyana Banyana when her side defeated Namibia in the 2017 COSAFA Women’s Championship in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe on Friday, 15 September.

Vivo, as Vilakazi is known among her teammates, joined an elite group of players who have already passed the 100-game mark – Portia Modise, Janine van Wyk, Noko Matlou, Nompumelelo Nyandeni and Amanda Dlamini.

The left back is the third most capped player in the current Banyana Banyana squad that is doing duty in the COSAFA Cup tournament – Matlou is on 134 caps, followed by Nyandeni on 131.

She has won a gold medal in the tournament and also took home silver. Vilakazi has been to two Olympic Games (London 2012 and Rio 2016), she has also played in three African Women’s Cup of Nations (2012, 2014 and 2016).

But her international career started in the South African U20 Women’s National Team.

Vilakazi sat down with SAFA Media in Bulawayo to go down memory lane.

Matlhomola Morake:     100 games for Banyana Banyana, how does it feel?

Nothando Vilakazi:           I am so excited that I have become the sixth player to reach that milestone. Words can’t describe how I feel.

MM:                                           As you were heading towards the 100-games mark, were you thinking about it? What was going on through your mind?

NV:                                              Yes, I was thinking about it, but I told myself that I will take each game as it comes. I didn’t want to get ahead of myself too soon so as not to affect my game.

MM:                                           Finally on 100, and you are walking to the field, what are you thinking?

NV:                                              I can’t even explain the emotions, but I was way too excited. And I told myself that I didn’t want to spoil this day because it is very special. Not everyone gets to reach this figure, but at the same time I was not going to make it about me – I am a team player and we are in a tournament, and that is the most important thing. We needed to get three points and personal achievements will be celebrated afterwards.

MM:                                           You were chosen Player of the Match when you faced Lesotho in the opening game of the tournament.

NV:                                              The award made me have more confidence and I was able to play my normal game when we faced Namibia. I am grateful for that award.

MM:                                           Five other players have passed the 100-match mark, as we you were heading towards your 100 games, what were your thoughts?

NV:                                              I was always looking up to them, especially Janine because we play together at the back and often times she always used to guide and tell us what to do and that really helped my game a great deal. I must also take this opportunity to congratulate them for being where they are now because it is not easy and we all drew inspiration from them.

MM:                                           You have reached 100 what next now?

NV:                                              This is only the beginning for me, I need to now also be part of the leaders of the team so that when other experienced players are not here, I must take that role and lift the team.

MM:                                           But who is Nothando Vilakazi? When and how did you start playing football?

NV:                                              Nothando Vilakazi a very reserved person, very quite and likes her own space. She is from Mhluzi, Middleburg in the province of Mpumalanga. I started playing football at the age of eight with a group of boys, and then I ended up loving the game. I continued until where I am today. The first club I played for was Walter Stars in Mpumalanga, afterwards I moved Highlanders Ladies and then Coal City Wizzards.

MM:                                           So how did you end up in Johannesburg? How did you make the Banyana Banyana squad?

NV:                                              I got selected to be in the squad for the then USSASA Games, and we went to Durban. There were scouts there who invited med join the High Performance Centre (HPC) in Pretoria, which saw me being part of the South African U20 Women’s National Team, and then I graduated to Banyana Banyana.

MM:                                           Do you remember your first game at Banyana Banyana?

NV:                                              It is so far back that I actually can’t remember it. But I haven’t forgotten my first call-up. It was in 2007 under then head coach Augustine Makalakalane and we played against Ghana, a game we lost. I was on the bench for that match and I was itching for action, I really wanted to play but I told myself that my time will come.

MM:                                           Then you got the chance to play after a while.

NV:                                              When I started I was still wet behind the ears, but I said I will take it step by step and try to improve with every game. Next was the AWC tournament in South Africa in 2012 and I missed the cut. That was a wakeup call for me and I vowed that I will work hard so as to be selected next time. The call up did come again, and I never looked back. The plan was that should I be given a chance, the player competing in the same position as me will have to work extra harder to get a chance to play – and that’s exactly what happened.

MM:                                           And you have now made that position your own – whenever anyone talks about a Banyana Banyana left back, your name always comes up.

NV:                                              That was the promise I made to myself, that whenever I am selected for Banyana Banyana I will work so hard that it becomes difficult for the coaches to ignore me. I also said I needed to improve on something every time I am in the national team and that has worked for me.

MM:                                           You have played COSAFA CUP before, you have been to two Olympic Games, and you have also been to the African Women’s Championships – is there anything more?

NV:                                              My biggest dream is to play overseas, and if I were to get that opportunity I will take it with both hands. I would also like to see Banyana Banyana qualify for the World Cup and see myself playing there.

MM:                                           Which is your favourite team and favourite player?

NV:                                              My favourite team is Barcelona in Spain and favourite player is Teko Modise, even though we don’t play the same position. I like his style of play, he is a hard-worker, very dedicated and passionate about the game, you can see in his play that he loves doing what he does on the field.

MM:                                           You won gold in 2008 and silver in 2011 in the COSAFA CUP. How is the 2017 tournament going so far in Bulawayo?

NV:                                              We have started very well with two wins out of two – six points in the bag and that’s exactly what we wanted, but we can’t rest on our laurels, we haven’t achieved anything yet. In the game against Lesotho the combinations were not working but I suppose what counts is the three points we got. In the next clash against Namibia there was a lot of improvement and we played very well. We were organised and sharp in our performance – even the goals we scored showed we were on top of our game.

MM:                                           Next game is Botswana, what can we expect?

NV:                                              We expect a tough game because they need to win, and what is also going to make it more difficult is that everyone wants to beat South Africa so we need to cover all our bases to make sure we come out with a win.

MM:                                           Can we win this tournament?

NV:                                              Oh yes we can, we have lifted the trophy three times (2002, 2006 and 2008) and only lost once in the final to the hosts Zimbabwe (2011), so the ability is there. But for now it is still early days, we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, we need to take each game as it comes and not think too far ahead because football can be very cruel if you don’t respect your opponents.

MM:                                           What advise do you have for all those aspiring youngsters wanting to be like you?

NV:                                              First of all I need to take this opportunity to thank our proud sponsor Sasol for all the support they have given women’s football over the years. With them by our side, many players have been unearthed at the Sasol League. We really appreciate that. Also Banyana Banyana have grown in leaps and bounds thanks to the support from Sasol and we can’t take it for granted. We were overjoyed when we saw them renew the relationship with SAFA because that can only be good news for women’s football. Back to your question – I want to say to all those youngsters, they must stay focused and train as hard as possible. They must be dedicated to the game and they will see the rewards. They must play every game as though it’s their last – with lots of passion and commitment. They also need to have a lot of belief in themselves, once they are selected to senior team they must not think they have arrived – that’s the time they need to work harder. Because we have seen many players called up and then relax when they are in the system – it is easier to get a call-up but much difficult to stay in the team because talent is always coming up.

**Banyana Banyana face Botswana on Sunday, 17 September 2017 at Luveve Stadium in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.

Kickoff is at 16h30.