Stephanie Malherbe (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - Banyana Banyana midfielder Stephanie Malherbe has always wanted to play football, but never in her wildest dreams did she imagine that one day she would be at the Olympic Games as an athlete.
The 20-year old, who was born and raised in Temecula, California, now finds herself at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games where she is part of the South African women’s Olympic team.
"I never really thought some day I would be at the Olympics. To be honest, this has been a big dream of mine since I was very young but I never thought I would be able to make it a reality, so it’s very exciting," told Malherbe to the SASCOC website from the Olympic Village.
She was unable to play for the national team during the Olympic qualifiers as she was still sorting out her documents.
Malherbe has South African-born parents, who now reside in the USA.
"There was a time when I thought I would not get my citizenship because we were having so many struggles and I was starting to give up on the dream. But finally it happened and now it’s been a crazy time, I am here and it’s a dream come true officially. This shows that persistence pays off," she added.
A few months back, she had been training with the South African U-20 women’s national team, Basetsana but could not play, as she did not have her citizenship yet.
"I was shy and didn’t know if I would be accepted. But the team was very welcoming and now I feel very comfortable among my teammates. I guess as a person you adapt quickly and that’s what I did," she said.
Steph, as she is know in the squad, has now played eight matches since making her debut for the senior national team in the international friendly match against Cameroon in Doula in March this year.
Having played against The Netherlands, the USA and New Zealand, Malherbe says their plan for the Olympics is clear.
"As a team we all have the collective goal of making an impact, we are trying to show people that South African football is on the rise. We have so much talent and it would be amazing to get people to recognise that talent and our abilities," said Malherbe.
"And for me personally I just want to support my team in any way, whether I play or not – just help contribute to our team goal. Being here in Rio and enjoying this experience is a blessing in itself and I want to make the most of it."
Malherbe has been in camp with the Olympic team since November last year and can’t wait for the Games to begin.
She is confident they will do well in the first match against Sweden on Wednesday, despite the 4-1 loss to New Zealand in an international friendly in Rio last Thursday.
"We have been together for a long time and prepared so much, we are eager to get the show on the road. It would be incredible if I get the opportunity to start or even play in that match. And after the kind of preparation we had, I feel we are ready to face Sweden, I am confident we can surprise them.
"We had a bad day at the office against New Zealand but the good thing is that we know where we need to rectify," said Malherbe.
"China, who we will play in our second match, will be very quick and organised. They move the ball very well but one of our strengths is the defence so I believe we will do well against them.
"Playing against hosts Brazil would probably be the icing on the cake – the environment, and all the fans that will come to watch, it will be a great atmosphere on the day. I think that’s a once in a lifetime experience to be playing the host team in the Olympics. I am excited about how that game will pan out."
She has one bit of advice to her compatriots.
"I believe if we play as a team, as a unit, everyone is on the same page and we all believe in ourselves, we can absolutely do this. But if we play as individuals then the wheels will come off and we will be out of the tournament sooner than expected," concluded Malherbe.