The first of two U.S. Women’s National Team send-off matches that serve as final preparation for the Olympic Games will take place on July 9 in Chicago. The USA will face South Africa, a first-time opponent and fellow Olympic participant, in a friendly at 12:30 p.m. CT on FS1 at Soldier Field. The pre-game show begins at 12 p.m. CT. Before the two teams take the field, here are five things to know about South Africa:
Establishing Soccer Roots
South Africa, which qualified for its second consecutive Olympic Women's Soccer Tournament, was drawn into a difficult Group E with host Brazil, China and Sweden and is hoping to continue to make positive strides as soccer grows and develops in Africa’s sixth most populous nation. In its first women's FIFA event at the 2012 Olympics, South Africa did not advance out of its group, but did score its first goal in a FIFA event in a 4-1 loss to Sweden, and its first point in a 0-0 draw with Japan.
South Africa played its first international women’s soccer match as a nation in 1993 and has never qualified for a FIFA Women’s World Cup, but with the expansion of the tournament to 24 teams it is hoping that 2019 in France will be its first.
Almost all international soccer teams have nicknames, but National Teams from Africa generally takes it one step further. South Africa is known as Banyana Banyana, which translates to “the girls,” and it uses the nickname in all of its official documents and social media presence. Additionally, every player also has a nickname on the official roster. Pretty awesome.
South Africa's 53-year-old head coach Vera Pauw is well-travelled, having been in charge of four different National Teams in her career. In 2014, the South African Football Association came calling and Pauw has been in charge of Banyana Banyana since.
Pauw is one of the most experienced women in the game of international soccer. During her playing career, she was the first female Dutch player to play her trade abroad professionally. After hanging up her boots, she was the first Dutch woman to earn her professional football coaching diploma with the KNVB and led FIFA's Technical Study Group at the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup Japan 2012. She also helped set up the Eredivisie Vrouwen – Holland’s top flight women’s league -- and now passes on her expertise to member associations around the world in her role as a FIFA Instructor.
Christen Press in South Africa
U.S. WNT forward Christen Press holds a special place in her heart for South Africa. Press visited Khayelitsha in November of 2015 with Grassroots Soccer, an organization that uses the power of soccer to help girls in Africa understand difficult topics. Press said that being there inspired her and gave her a perspective about life and the game she loves.
“Despite living in incredible difficult circumstances these women are resilient and they are dedicated to using soccer to educate, inspire and mobilize the next generation,” said Press.
The presence of South Africa in a second consecutive Olympic Games only reinforces those themes and what some communities in the country are trying to teach. Soccer has helped solidify important moments in the country’s history in women’s sport – showing that hard work, camaraderie and dedication can one day take you to compete at the highest levels in the world.
USA vs. South Africa – The Beginning
The match on July 9 will be the first meeting between the two countries at any level of women's international soccer. The match represents a positive development for women’s sports as it highlights a new nation coming onto the world’s stage and competing to make the women’s game a powerful force across the world.