Refiloe Jane a key figure as South Africa aim to end Women’s World Cup pain
Midfielder is looking to achieve two “lifelong dreams”
Three tickets to France 2019 will be on offer next month in Africa
For as long as she can remember, Refiloe Jane has wanted to be a footballer. Growing up in a large family and learning her football smarts on the dusty streets of Soweto, Jane has never been able to take an easy route.
Now, some two decades since becoming addicted to the game, Jane - or 'Fifi' as she is known to team-mates and opponents alike - is on the cusp of ticking off two long-term goals within a matter of weeks.
Next month South Africa will have a shot at reaching their maiden FIFA Women’s World Cup™. Banyana Banyana will need to claim a top-three finish at the CAF Women’s Championship in Ghana in order to collect a ticket to France 2019.
Before then, however, Fifi will achieve a “lifelong dream” after finally earning an overseas contract - a full ten years after her senior club debut. Fifi will line up for Canberra United in the opening round of the W-League this weekend, along with South Africa team-mate Rhoda Mulaudzi.
“It was such an emotional moment for me,” Fifi told FIFA.com reflecting on the news of her successful trial. “It is hard to express how I was feeling. I struggled for words when the coach told us we had a contract.”
Currently studying a masters degree in marketing, specialising in sport management, Fifi was forced to partake in fundraisers to pay her way for a trial in Australia. Yet despite having little or no savings to fall back on, Fifi also paid the airfare for Mulaudzi, her “best friend of 12 years” to reach Australia.
Canberra United coach and former long-serving Australia midfielder Heather Garriock said the pair immediately impressed with their on-field ability and work ethic.
“They have worked extremely hard to get where they are, so they were holding back tears and could barely speak when told they would be signed,” Garriock said. “It was my favourite moment in coaching.”
Canberra is a long way in every sense from Fifi's Kliptown home, which is almost within touching distance of Orlando Stadium, Soweto’s traditional footballing epicentre.
A school sprint champion, the silky-skilled attacking midfielder graduated into the senior national team just in time for the 2012 London Olympics where she took the field for Banyana Banyana a matter of days after celebrating her 20th birthday. Articulate and thoughtful, she has been a popular and valued member of the national squad ever since.
Fifi displayed her quality last month by scoring both goals as South Africa won the COSAFA Women’s Championship on home soil with a 2-1 victory over Cameroon.
In a little under four weeks, South Africa will be seeking to not only reach France 2019, but also exorcise some demons after a luckless near miss four years ago.
“Previously we came so close to qualifying but we missed out on small margins,” Fifi said. “This time we want to make sure we do everything right so that we qualify for the World Cup.
“We always talk about it. Since we missed out on 2015, we have worked so hard towards this World Cup. Every time that we have since been in camp, we remind ourselves that we are preparing ourselves for a bigger stage. We know how bad we want it.”
Defining moment for Rainbow Nation Despite two appearances at the Olympic Games, South Africa have surprisingly yet to make the breakthrough to female football’s brightest stage.
South Africa of course hosted the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, but haven’t won qualification since France 1998. Fifi believes a return to France, this time for the nation’s female side, would be a hugely significant moment for the nation.
“There are so many footballers in South Africa who look up to players in the national team,” she said. “We want to open doors for them. We want the world to see that South Africa has talent, and have the players to compete on the world stage.
“Now it is everyone’s dream in South Africa to qualify for the World Cup. It would not just change our lives, but every South African’s life.”