Thembi Kgatlana. Picture: SYDNEY MAHLANGU/BACKPAGEPIX
Thembi Kgatlana. Picture: SYDNEY MAHLANGU/BACKPAGEPIX

At 22‚ Thembi Kgatlana has the world at her feet following her Women’s Player of the Year and Goal of the Year prizes at the 2018 Caf Awards‚ says former Banyana Banyana coach Fran Hilton-Smith.

Kgatlana — rubbing shoulders with Men’s Player of the Year Mohamed Salah and legends George Weah‚ Samuel Eto’o and Didier Drogba at the ceremony in Dakar‚ Senegal on Tuesday night — was the only recipient of two awards.

She became the second South African‚ after Noko Matlou in 2008‚ to win the Women’s Player award.

Banyana collected three awards‚ with coach Desiree Ellis scooping Coach of the Year.

Hilton-Smith‚ the SA Football Association’s (Safa’s) assistant technical director and head of women’s football‚ said it was a big night for women’s football in SA.

“Ja‚ it’s massive. It shows that years of structured development has led us to where we are now‚” she said on Wednesday. “Thembi comes from our Safa High Performance Centre for women at Pretoria University that started 13 years ago.

“It’s producing the players — 18 of the Banyana players at the Africa Women’s Cup of Nations (Awcon) came from there.”

Hilton-Smith said Houston Dash forward Kgatlana‚ top scorer with five goals at the Awcon as Banyana lost against now 11-time victors Nigeria on penalties in the final‚ has the world at her feet in women’s football. “Absolutely. I think it’s quite incredible that she got‚ specifically‚ best goal when you see who she was up against on the male side‚ and also the women’s side‚” she said.

“Also‚ her playing overseas — which is something I’ve pushed for years, to get as many players overseas — is important because that’s how Nigeria have always kept ahead of us.

“They’ve been at every World Cup. So their players have always been snapped up overseas‚ and that’s given them a consistent competitive edge.

“And also ... Banyana are competing so much more thanks to the Sasol sponsorship.

“Pre-World Cup we’ve got Sweden‚ Netherlands‚ the Cyprus Cup‚ and US.”

Hilton-Smith said 2018 was a coming of age year for Banyana after a six-year progression that saw them qualify for the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

The 2018 Cosafa Cup champions never managed to finally convert their five Awcon runners-up positions to the championship spot.

But they did manage a win against Nigeria in the group stage‚ took them to penalties in the final‚ and in so doing qualified for their first World Cup.

“Ja‚ it is [a breakthrough year]. We’ve tried for 25 years to get to this flippin’ World Cup. Now we’re there‚” Hilton-Smith said.