A Conversation with Janine Van Wyk

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Don’t tell South Africa they aren’t a FIFA top 50 ranked team, because they didn’t play against the number one team in the world that way. The U.S women’s national team faced South Africa July 9, in Chicago for an Olympic sendoff.

The international friendly was a history making event. The match was held in Chicago at Soldier Field, the first time the U.S. women played there was back in 2007. Fans in the stands were able to see Hope Solo set a goal keeping record by recording her 100 shut out. The historic feat is the most international clean sheets for a Goal Keeper ever, man or woman. It was also the first time both teams ever faced each other in an international match up. Both teams are Olympic bound, and were eager to play in the Rio send off.

South African defender and team captain Janine Van Wyk spoke with us about playing the historic game, and the tone and environment in Chicago. “Oh it was amazing. We’ve never played in front of such a huge crowd before, very lively, and they’ve been very supportive with both teams.”

The importance of quality friendlies before an international tournament are important for all Olympic bound teams. South Africa has been drawn into Olympic Group A, along with host country Brazil, Iraq, and Denmark. The top two teams in the group stage advance to the Olympic quarterfinals. Getting quality minutes against potential Olympic rivals could serve as beneficial for both teams just before Rio.

Janine Van Wyk is a bit of an icon for the South African women’s team. Currently the team’s captain, she is the most capped player of all time, man or woman, for South Africa. In 2012 she helped form the JVW Girls Football Development Program, which has helped with growth of game for women in South Africa. The stingy center back has a great defensive vision of the pitch, and was more than a test for the U.S. Women’s team to get through.

Van Wyk continued with her thoughts on the match. “Obviously, it’s a huge game for us. We played the best in the world. What better preparation could you get for a big tournament ahead of us. I think it’s made us a lot stronger, fitter, and I think we have had loads of luck coming to this game. Gained experience and playing at such a high level, and that’s exactly what we’re going to expect in Rio, so it was really good for us. We’re not happy with the result obviously, but we are pleased with our performance we put out today.”

Banyana Banyana did not walk away with a win in Chicago, but held the top ranked and highly favored U.S. team to a 1-0 score line. The game left both teams with things to work on and look forward to in the upcoming Rio Olympics.

Van Wyk elaborated on the low scoring game. “We are very proud keeping the score line down. We managed to create chances we didn’t capitalize on unfortunately, but it’s obviously something we’ve got to work on back at the training camp, all in all I think the performance was excellent today.”

Van Wyk’s experience shined in the game. The organization of South Africa’s backline during the game did not appear that of a 50th ranked team. It was led by their captain, who displayed an excellent vision for the match, often helping to disrupt passes and frustrate U.S. players.

Having to face an offense with names like Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, Christen Press and Crystal Dunn is no easy feat. South African goal keeper Roxanne Barker had a very good showing despite the final score. The U.S. were unable to get more than one goal past the keeper and backline, who were able to stop the U.S. on multiple offensive opportunities. Including a great header by Allie Long that defender Vilakazi headed away point blank.

Barker expressed the importance of facing the U.S. before the Olympics. “This is the best team in the world. Let’s be honest. You want to play the best teams you can. Also, big [sized] teams. Because we’re such a small team, and we play a lot of small teams often. We don’t get a chance to play them [bigger teams], in Europe or at all really.”

When asked about what she was pleased with most from her backline Barker continues, “I wasn’t happy with the result, but I was happy with our organization and in that way we kept the score line. I think we just need a few extra dots on the ‘I’ before the Olympics.”

Perhaps in the future U.S fans will be able to see players like Barker and Van Wyk outside of international play via club games. Barker has played for Pali Blues, and was drafted by Portland Thorns FC before being cut. She now plays in Iceland. Van Wyk currently plays for JVW FC, the club she helped found in South Africa.

In the meantime, fans can prepare to watch South Africa in the Olympics. The team will be playing their first Olympic group match against Sweden, August 3.

This was originally published in July 2016 on Midfield Press.