30 June 2018– Banyana Banyana striker Leandra Smeda says she is over the moon following her move to Gintra Universitetas in Lithuania.
Smeda is expected to depart for the Eastern European side on Sunday, 8 July after signing a four-month contract – to become the fifth South African female footballer to sign a professional contract, following in the footsteps of Janine van Wyk, Linda Motlhalo, Thembi Kgatlana (all Houston Dash, USA) and Ode Fulutudilu (Oulu Nice Soccer, Finland).
“This is good for South African women’s football that more and more players are going abroad as that experience can only benefit the national team. There are many more overseas, even though they are not playing in professional leagues, but being there is a step up in their careers – the more players we have abroad the better for our country’s future,” said an elated Smeda.
“I hope this move will open more doors for other South African players as we have a lot of talent in abundance. Personally, I hope this will lead to more opportunities for me to get to bigger teams and sign longer contracts.”
The 28 year old joins a team with a rich history of winning things. They play in the highest Lithuanian league, the A Lyga, and have won 13 championships so far. The fourth one in 2005 and every championship since then, including 2017.
“I am very excited with my move, but more so that I will be playing Champions League football. It is every footballer’s dream to play at that level. I will make the best of the opportunity, and try to help the team go through the qualifying stages of the Champions League and go as far as we can,” added Smeda.
This will be the first time she stays away from home for such a long period – other than times when she is camp with Banyana Banyana.
“To be honest, I did not expect to be moving abroad. At 28, I had given up on signing for an overseas team so I am very grateful for this chance and looking forward to this great challenge,” said Smeda.
“I know it will not be easy for me as a foreigner as I now have to adapt to a new team, new teammates, new coaching methods, new environment, new style of play and many other things. But I am confident it will work out in the end – I just need to do what I do best and focus on my game, and enjoy myself.”
Smeda is working towards her Post Graduate Diploma in Sport Development and the University of Western Cape, where she has been playing her club football.
She says she will use her spare time in Lithuania to continue with her studies.
“Fortunately I have not been attending full-time, I only submit my work to the University – I believe being away from home I will find even more time to study and hopefully I will graduate next year as per my plan,” she said.
“Education is very important, and I would not swop my studies for anything. I know it will be difficult in the beginning trying to find a balance of books, football and adapting but I will make it work. I would like to thank my parents for all the support they have given me. When they heard I was leaving, they said go make the best of it and enjoy yourself. I would like to thank SAFA and Sasol for creating a platform for us to showcase our talent – without them we would not talking about this move.”
She joins her new teammates after the conclusion of the USSA National Club Champs which kickoff in Port Elizabeth on Monday, 2 July.
Smeda’s contract ends in October and there is a strong possibility that the versatile player will miss the 2018 COSAFA Women’s Championship scheduled for September. She was one of the star performers during the 2017 edition as she helped Banyana Banyana lift the trophy.
ABOUT THE A LYGA:
- TheA Lyga (Lithuanian for A league) is Lithuania’s top level women’s football league
- The champion qualifies for a spot in theUEFA Women’s Champions League
- The league is above the LMFA First League
- The championship consists of 20 matchdays – The teams play each other four times
- 2017 A league season started on 17 April and the last matchday will be 29 October
- Gintra Universitetas is a Lithuanian Women’s Football club from Siauliai
- It is the team of the local Siauliai University
- The club plays in the highest Lithuanian league – the A Lyga
- Has won 13 championships so far – the fourth one in 2005 and every championship since then
- After its championships, the club played in the UEFA Women’s Cup and from 2009 onwards in the UEFA Women’s Champions League
- The club took part in the 2010–11 UEFA Women’s Champions League qualifying round and managed a good 2nd place after beating ZFK Borec (Macedonia) – drawing to Klaksvikar Itrottarfelag (Faroe Islands) and only losing to England’s Everton. All games were hosted by Gintra in Lithuania
- In the 2014/15 edition they finished as best runners-up and advanced to the round of 32 for the first time in ten seasons.
- A Lyga(14): 1999, 2000, 2003, 2005 to 2017
- Lithuanian Women’s Cup(10): 2005 to 2014
- Lithuanian Women’s Super cup(1): 2006
- Baltic League(1): 2017
A list of all champions:
- 1994: Olimpija-Centras Kaunas
- 1994/95: Politechnika Kaunas
- 1995/96: Vilnius FM
- 1996/97: Gabija-Politechnika Kaunas
- 1997/98: Kristina Vilnius
- 1998/99: Politechnika-Sika Kaunas
- 1999:Gintra Šiauliai
- 2000:Gintra Šiauliai
- 2001: Šventupė Ukmergė
- 2002: TexTilitė Ukmergė
- 2003:Gintra-Universitetas Šiauliai
- 2004: TexTilitė Ukmergė
- 2005: Gintra-Universitetas Šiauliai
- 2006: Gintra-Universitetas Šiauliai
- 2007: Gintra-Universitetas Šiauliai
- 2008: Gintra-Universitetas Šiauliai
- 2009: Gintra-Universitetas Šiauliai
- 2010: Gintra-Universitetas Šiauliai
- 2011: Gintra-Universitetas Šiauliai
- 2012: Gintra-Universitetas Šiauliai
- 2013: Gintra-Universitetas Šiauliai
- 2014: Gintra-Universitetas Šiauliai
- 2015: Gintra-Universitetas Šiauliai
- 2016: Gintra-Universitetas
- 2017: Gintra-Universitetas
- Lithuania: officially the Republic of Lithuania(Lithuanian: Lietuvos Respublika)
- Is a country in the Baltic regionof northern–eastern Europe
- One of the three Baltic states
- It is situated along the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea, to the east ofSwedenand Denmark
- It is bordered by Latviato the north, Belarusto the east and south, Polandto the south, and Kaliningrad Oblast(a Russianexclave) to the southwest
- Lithuania has an estimated population of 2.8 million people as of 2017
- Its capital and largest city is Vilnius
- Lithuaniansare a Baltic people
- The official language, Lithuanian, along with Latvian, is one of only two living languages in the Baltic branchof the Indo-Europeanlanguage family.