Twin sisters Thubelihle and Sphumelele Shamase speak with FIFA.com
The South African duo talk about their shared passions
Bantwana meet Brazil on Tuesday
“You played really badly,” Thubelihle Shamase said through fits of laughter, offering her twin sister Sphumelele a frank opinion on her performance during South Africa’s opening 0-0 draw with Mexico at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup.
Sphumelele accepted the good-natured criticism but demanded a right to reply. “It was my first-ever U-17 World Cup match, and the Mexicans were so fast,” she explained. “It wasn’t easy, but you wouldn’t know that because you didn’t play that day!”
Thubelihle remained unconvinced, however. “But you can play so much better – I didn’t recognise you out there. You should have scored. It was, without a doubt, one of the worst matches of your life,” she said with a cheeky grin.
This jovial exchange typifies the close relationship enjoyed by the talented siblings, who both dream of one day turning out for Barcelona. Indeed, it appears that their bond has grown even stronger while appearing on the global stage at Uruguay 2018.
South Africa’s school/U-17 World Cup balance
Their staff includes a qualified tutor
The players spend several hours a day studying
Schools in South Africa have been sending exam papers to Uruguay
Players sit them and send them back the same day
The tutor spends time with each player one-on-one
“We can pretty much guess what the other one is thinking most of the time, but we don’t think that we look like each other all that much,” they said practically in unison, a habit they have developed when responding to questions. “We’re also better when we play together. My sister might have felt more comfortable during the opening match if I’d been at her side,” said Thubelihle.
Sphumelele added: “Our coach, Simphiwe Dludlu, told us we weren’t allowed to share a room in Uruguay to encourage us to mix with the other players as much as possible.” Same school, same passion, same ambition, same outlook on life: the twins even fulfil the same role – winger – on the football pitch, with Sphumelele patrolling the left flank and Thubelihle zipping up and down the right. In fact, one of their few areas of disagreement concerns footballing role models. “I prefer Coutinho, because he’s more effective than Neymar,” insisted Sphumelele.
“This experience may change our lives and we’re well aware of that. That can be a bit stressful during matches, but we do our best to relax before them. The way I relax is by sleeping, sleeping, and sleeping some more!” continued Sphumelele in between bursts of laughter. Her sister's preferred method, however, is singing– a habitual ritual among the Bantwana.
(The South African team arrive singing, with their coach leading by example. Unsurprisingly, the twins get off the bus at the same time.)
Although the 16-year-old siblings enjoyed one of the most intense experiences of their lives when they started South Africa’s second Group B match versus Japan together, they also took away some valuable lessons after coming up against the pace, organisation and attacking waves exhibited by their impressive Asian opponents, who defeated them 6-0. On Tuesday, the South Africans will have another chance to compete with some of the world’s best, when they face Brazil in Montevideo.
“The biggest lesson was really just the importance of playing more directly. We’re here to learn, after all,” explained the twins, who will – if they are, as looks likely, eliminated at the group stage – soon return home with lifelong memories to share.