20 November 2018 – While the Sasol-sponsored Banyana Banyana squad was celebrating their famous and hard-fought 1-0 win over bitter rivals, Nigeria, in the first match of the 2018 Women’s AFCON, one of the heroines of the victory, Lebohang Ramalepe, was quietly celebrating her 50thappearance for her country.
The petite and somewhat shy Jumaima, as she is known in football circles, reached her milestone in great style – in her first meeting with the Super Falcons, played on Sunday, 18 November 2018 at the Cape Coast Stadium in Ghana.
This was also Banyana Banyana’s first victory over Nigeria – who are the defending champions in the tournament – since 2012 in the semifinals of the Women’s AFCON.
The defender joins an esteemed list of female footballers – the likes of Jermaine Seoposenwe, Sanah Mollo, Janine van Wyk, Amanda Dlamini, Refiloe Jane, Nothando Vilakazi and Noko Matlou.
Ramalepe has scored just one goal for Banyana Banyana since she made her debut against Zimbabwe in 2004.
SAFA Media sat down with her after reaching her milestone.
Let’s start with the Nigeria match, your impressions:
It was a very tough game, it felt like we were playing a cup final. We were ready and as we were playing the first match of the tournament we wanted the three points. Even though we knew it was not going to be easy, we went in there and fought like soldiers.
No goals in the first half, second half substitute Thembi scores late in the match.
We were happy as players because we were under the impression that Nigeria would come with a different mindset, like bullying us. But we remained calm and managed to control the game up to a point where they got frustrated, because they had chances and missed them. We told ourselves that in the second half we must fix our mistakes, stay compact and do what we had discussed with the technical team and the results will come. And they did with a brilliant goal from Thembi and we felt this is our day – there’s no turning back, we have to win this game. When the final whistle sounded, we were just over the moon.
First game against Nigeria in your career, and you come out with a win
To be honest I was scared and nervous at the start. I had heard people talking about the strong Nigeria, but I had also been taught that at the end of the day it is 11 v 11. I heard stories of how good they are, but I said I come from Polokwane and I am also good, despite my small frame. I had to show that I could also play.
Beating the defending champions, how much of a boost is that going forward?
That win increased the confidence of everybody in the team. I think many people were expecting worse results but as a team we knew what was at stake and we wanted it so bad. Now the focus is on the next game, the Nigeria clash is out of the way, so we need to make sure we get out of the group stages.
How do you fight complacency going to play against a team that lost 5-0?
Every game in the group stages is very important. You have to go past that hurdle of getting out of the group to get to the semis. Our approach for the second game will be just the same as the one against Nigeria, because if we relax because they were beaten 5-0, what if they bring their A game and surprise us. So we have to stay focused and go with the mentality that we want three points and we must get them.
While everyone was celebrating the win you were quietly celebrating 50 caps for Banyana Banyana.
The Lord works in mysterious ways. Reaching 50 caps is not an easy thing, and I would like to thank all the coaches who helped me along the way to get to this milestone because if they did not believe in my ability, I would not be here. Gratitude also goes to my teammates who encourage me everyday, so yes when we played Nigeria I was quietly celebrating. I am so happy, I really never thought I would reach this big milestone.
Double celebration: getting 50 caps with a win over Nigeria
I was over the moon. I don’t want to lie – in fact I am speechless.
You have joined a list of decorated Banyana Banyana who went past 50.
I am honoured to be mentioned in the same space as the Banyana Banyana greats. I am really humbled, but I feel there is still a long way to go to get to that magical hundred. As a player I know what I have to do to reach it – stay disciplined, be coachable, make sure the nation is always proud of the hard work I put in in every game, no matter the results – just always strive to do my best, and the rest will follow.
What was your most memorable game for South Africa?
When we played Equatorial Guinea in their backyard to qualify for the Rio 2016 Olympics – that is a day I will never forget because it was my first time ever qualifying for such a very big event that every player wants to be part of. The fact that we beat them away, the celebrations that followed, the joy of my teammates, it was just something to behold. I will forever cherish that day in particular.
Having played at the Olympics, how close are you to reaching your dream of the World Cup?
Looking at the perspective of the team, everyone is hungry for the World Cup, because we have never qualified for it. I was there in 2014 when we lost to Ivory Coast in the semifinals of the World Cup qualifier. At the time I was still new in the team and the reaction I saw from the senior players was heartbreaking. They were shattered – everyone was in tears after missing out on their dream. So we don’t want to go through the same scenes again, because what I saw I will never forget. The win over Nigeria was the first step to realising our World Cup dream. I want to see myself in France and we are going to work very hard as a team – every game, every training session we will give 100 percent so that the dream can become a reality. The truth is, for some of our senior players, this is the last chance of playing in a World Cup, and they may never get another opportunity. We have to do it as a team so that when they hang their boots, they hang them with pride.
Lots of messages of support for the team coming in from all over.
All I can say to our fans wherever they are, keep on pushing us and supporting us because women’s football is not getting the recognition it deserves, and their support means a lot. We are here to fight and represent our fans with pride.
*** Banyana Banyana face Equatorial Guinea in their second match of the 2018 Women’s AFCON. The clash takes place on Wednesday, 21 November at the Cape Coast Stadium in Ghana. Kickoff is at 18h30 local time (20h30 SA Time) ***
50+ Banyana Banyana players:
64 Jermaine Seoposenwe
73 Sanah Mollo
85 Leandra Smeda
85 Mamello Makhabane
94 Refiloe Jane
105 Amanda Dlamini (retired)
118 Nothando Vilakazi
124 Portia Modise (retired)
144 Nompumelelo Nyandeni
146 Noko Matlou
156 Janine van Wyk
LEBOHANG RAMALEPE FACT FILE:
DATE OF BIRTH: 3 DECEMBER 1991
PLACE OF BIRTH: GA-MAUPA, LIMPOPO
PREVIOUS CLUBS: KING STARS LADIES FC, KANATLA LADIES FC
GOALS: 1 (vs KENYA, 18 JULY 2015 – OLYMPIC QUALIFIER)
DEBUT: vs ZIMBABWE, 12 APRIL 2014
HONOURS: 2013 SASOL LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP RUNNER UP, 4THPLACE – 2014 WOMEN’S AFCON, 2016 RIO OLYMPICS, 2017 & 2018 COSAFA WOMEN’S CHAMPIONSHIP WINNER, 6THPLACE – 2018 CYPRUS WOMEN’S CUP