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Women Footballers Shine at Fort Hare University

It’s said the celebrations still haven’t stopped in the remote town of Alice in South Africa, almost a month after the town’s female university team ended their heroic season with promotion to the country’s top-flight football league.

Just 16,500 students make up the 107-year-old Fort Hare University, spread across two campuses in East London and the 20,000-strong town of rural Alice, making this achievement even more incredible.

Campaigning in the second-tier SAFA Women’s League, which splits participating teams by region, the university side stormed through their Stream A pool fixtures this year, drawing just once and winning 15 of their 16 matches to top the standings. Top spot meant qualification into the provincial final against Stream B table-toppers Executive Ladies, as they registered an emphatic 4-1 victory to be crowned Eastern Cape Province champions thanks to goals from Sinayo Kupiso, Nizole Ngece and a late brace by Nosikho Magqaza - her 16th goal in 17 matches.

Despite their dominance, being crowned provincial champions for the first time was no small matter for Fort Hare University, who only established their women’s football team in the mid-2000s. Yet there was still one more prize to fight for: secure one of two spots in the Hollywoodbets Super League, South Africa’s top-tier women’s football competition.

Following consecutive victories in their group of the national play-off mini-tournament, Fort Hare progressed to the semi-finals, where victory would guarantee their fairytale prize.

The big day couldn’t have been any more nerve-wracking as a 2-2 draw through 90 minutes with Gauteng Province champion Croesus meant a dreaded penalty shootout. The ladies, however, held their nerve to slot home each of their five penalties, win the match, and secure their place.

Amid the euphoria, there was one more challenge ahead with the national play-off final against KwaZulu-Natal’s provincial champions Lindelani Ladies. And, as fate would have it, a goalless draw meant a second penalty shootout in three days, yet once again the Fort Hare ladies kept their cool and emerged 4-3 winners. Goalkeeper Thabisa Maleni’s heroics saw her named Goalkeeper of the Tournament as she helped her side to their first National Champion title.

An elated Fort Hare University coach Asanda Mnakaniso was filled with emotion after his side’s achievement sunk in, having gone 21 matches unbeaten.

"We beat teams from all nine provinces," he said. "In total there are about 144 teams and we are the champions. I am very proud of the girls, and so is the entire province." Fort Hare thus joined the more-established University of the Western Cape, University of Pretoria, University of Johannesburg and the Tshwane University of Technology as the fifth university side in South Africa’s top-flight women’s league.

University women’s football in the country thus continues its impressive growth, having given rise to many of South Africa’s top footballers who have gone on to shine on the international stage. South Africa has qualified for both of the last two editions of the FIFA World Cup, where seven of the players called up had featured as student-athletes at previous FISU World University Games, including former African Player of the Year Thembi Kgatlana and current South African senior women’s team captain Refiloe Jane.

Posted by Fabio De Dominicis on 15 Mar, 2024.
Source: FISU
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