“At age 11 I realised that football is what I truly love and enjoy. Although I participated in other sports, I always gravitated more towards the game of football”
After notching up her 100th cap for Banyana over the weekend, Leandra Smeda has reflected on her career which began before she hit her teens.
Smeda (30) was part of the SA team which lost 2-0 to Japan in an international friendly in Kitakyushu on Sunday. She has joined an elite group of players who have made 100 appearances for their country, including Janine van Wyk, Refiloe Jane, Nompulelelo Nyandeni, Noko Matlou, Amanda Dlamini, Mamello Makhabane and Portia Modise.
As a young girl watching her father play football, Smeda became interested in the sport and was inspired to play. She quickly realised how good she was after being selected for the South African School Games, representing Western Cape’s Under-12 girls’ team.
“At age 11 I realised that football is what I truly love and enjoy. Although I participated in other sports, I always gravitated more towards the game of football,” said Smeda.
Growing up in Velddrif, Smeda played in the Sasol League for over eight years before being scouted and invited to join Banyana Banyana in 2010.
After eight years in the national team, Smeda finally received her first international contract in 2018, earning herself a spot in Luthianian club, Gintra Universitetas. She then moved to Swedish club, Vittsjo GIK, where she is currently based. Although playing for an international team, Smeda admits that it all started in the Sasol League.
“I think Sasol’s sponsorship has been really good for women’s football in South Africa. Women footballers are receiving more exposure, you can see it by the number of players from both Banyana Banyana and the Sasol League obtaining contracts abroad. I don’t think I would be here today if I did not receive the opportunity to play and show my talent through the Sasol League, so I’m really grateful for that.”
It hasn’t been an easy journey to 100 caps as the midfielder recalls some of the challenges that she faced along the way.
“The biggest challenge I faced in my football career was when I was still a student and had to study, work and play football. It was really difficult for me but with my family and friends’ support, I pushed through it all,” she said.
“My advice to upcoming football players is to work hard, believe in themselves and enjoy the game.”