'Banyana will be a force at World Cup'
Former Banyana Banyana coach Fran Hilton-Smith says the senior national team will become a force to be reckoned with by the time the next Fifa Women's World Cup is held in 2023.
Banyana are currently playing at the Cosafa Championships in Port Elizabeth. They face Zambia in the final today and Hilton-Smith said they must use this tournament as preparation for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic qualifiers.
The women's national team disappointed at their maiden World Cup in France after defeats to Germany, Spain and China in the tournament group stages but Hilton-Smith, who started coaching in the early 90s, expects great things from the side in four years' time.
She said the mooted national women's league that is to be launched this year would have a profound impact on the women's game.
"Reaching the World Cup for the first time in France was a fantastic achievement by the girls and I think that in 2023 we will be a force to be reckoned with," said Hilton-Smith.
"It was a pinnacle moment for women's football in the country and on a personal note, it was fulfilling because I have been working towards that for more than 25 years.
"Already we have a number of players who are playing in top leagues around the world and I truly believe that the National Women's League will have a massive impact on the game in the country.
"In the build-up to the World Cup, the girls played against competitive opposition and gratitude must go to [sponsors] Sasol for their support.
"A professional league means that top teams and their players will have the opportunity of playing regularly, which is something that does not happen at the moment.
"That will increase the level of competition and professionalise the game in the country, and that makes me very excited about the future of the game."
The 66-year-old Hilton-Smith said looking back at the journey she has travelled over the years, she is proud that 13 players who were part of the programme at the High Performance Centre in Pretoria have graduated with university degrees.