Wellington: Thembi Kgatlana overcame personal tragedy and a brutal injury to deliver South Africa’s first Women’s World Cup win on Wednesday, booking a spot in the knockout stages with a last-gasp 3-2 upset over Italy in Wellington.
Italy were on track to salvage a draw and a place in the last 16 when Arianna Caruso levelled in the 74th minute but Kgatlana refused to quit, sending in the stoppage-time winner off a neat flick from Hildah Magaia.
“Over the last three weeks, I’ve lost three family members. I could have gone home, but I chose to stay with my girls,” Kgatlana said. “Because that’s how much it means.” The Racing Louisville forward suffered a torn Achilles tendon in 2022, an injury that kept her sidelined for some 10 months and nearly cost her a trip to her second World Cup.
“I came back from a very, brutal injury to be here, to play for the country, to represent every single girl that wanted to be here, to make history with the girls for South Africa,” she said.
Sweden beat them 2-1 with a 90th-minute winner in their opener and the team were forced to settle for a 2-2 draw in their second group match against Argentina, after blowing a two-goal lead.
But Kgatlana said she and her teammates walked into Wednesday’s match ready to “dig deep” despite the frustrating previous results.
“Today we just told ourselves, we have to fight,” she said.
“We were the underdogs and I think it worked perfectly for us. When you play that underdog, they come out running for you and we knew that in terms of pace, they weren’t like us, and it’s something that we could utilise for the victory.” They will face the Netherlands in the last 16 in Sydney on Sunday, after finishing second in Group G behind Sweden.