25 February 2019 – Linda Motlhalo, forward for the Sasol-sponsored Banyana Banyana, says their aim is to improve on the sixth place finish in the 2019 Cyprus Women’s Cup, which takes place from 27 February to 6 March. They also want to do well as they preparing for the World Cup.

With the competition now using a new format, everyone stands to win the trophy – unlike in previous editions when only teams from certain groups could play for gold.

The South Africans arrived in Cyprus on Sunday (24 February) and have now settled in at their base camp in Ayia Napa as they await the kickoff of the tournament.

South Africa is in Group A alongside Finland – whom they face on Wednesday (27 February) in their opening fixture of the tournament – Czech Republic and Korea DPR.

They finished in position in 2018.

“This will be my second Cyprus Women’s Cup, and I know it will not be an easy tournament. We are going to playing against highly-ranked teams, so our aim is to improve from last year’s position six to finish a bit higher, and don’t discount the chances of us winning it, but we will take it game by game,” said Motlhalo.

“This has become a very important tournament for us, more so because we are using it to prepare for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup. So we have to go there and give our all as though we are already at the World Cup, because these are the types of conditions and opponents we will face in France, but I think we will do well this time around, there is a lot of positivity and fight for places in the team, and that is very exciting as it makes us work evern harder.”

The World Cup is scheduled to start on 7 June until 7 July in France. Motlhalo is excited about the qualification but also over the moon about her recent move to China where she has been signed by Beijing BG Phoenix on a one year deal.

“I am very excited about this move, which has been coming for a long time – as early as last year when I was at the Women’s AFCON, but I was focused on the tournament. Eventually it happened and I am over the moon, it’s a new oportunity and my parents are happy about it,” added Motlhalo, who last season was on the books of Houston Dash in the USA, and says she has no concerns about adapting in a new country.

“Once you are comfortable you won’t grow, you need to get out of your comfort zone to be a better person. But remember the first three months in the USA were not easy, I had to adapt very quickly – and it guess it’s goingto be the same thing in China. I have no choice but to adapt and carry on.

“HPC helped me a lot on this score. I was 12 years old when I moved from my home to stay at the HPC, and I would see my parents after about three months or so. And I got used to the fact that I would not be spending that much time with them, so I am good to go wherever as long as I am playing the beautiful game.”

Motlhalo will not be alone in the Far East – she will be with fellow Banyana Banyana teammate, Thembi Kgatlana, the reigning CAF Woman Player of the Year. Motlhalo says her presence will help them settle quickly.

“Going there with Thembi helps because I will be in a foreign land, where they speak a foreign language, so I will need someone to talk to and someone who understands me. I have playing with Thembi since we were 12 or 13 years old and we are still going strong, so I am glad I am going with someone I can confide in,” said Motlhalo.

“I have done my reasearch on what to expect there, and I terms of food I have found that there is something for us to eat and we will find more when we get that side. They love fruit and vegetables so I am home on that front, but as for language, it’s a new journey and I will deal with that when I get there, I cannot let it stand in my way.”

Beijing BG Phoenix is a team that plays in the China Women’s League.

“I don’t know much about the club, but I have played with some of my teammates in the Olympic Games in Rio in 2016,” added Motlhalo.

“I have spoken to my new coach and he has suggested that when I start with them, based on what he has seen and believes, he would like me to play more as a second striker as he sees me to be more influential in that position – and I was happy with that because I am a kind of player that when thrown to any position I take it. At Houston Dash I played as defensive midfielder and I enjoyed that role.”

The 2019 Cyprus Women’s Cup will be the 12thedition of the tournament, an invitational 12-nation women’s football tournament held annually in Cyprus.