Van Wyk aims to erase World Cup heartaches

Houston Dash defender Janine van Wyk is in the midst of one of the most important seasons of her career, as she prepares for what could be her last chance to qualify for a World Cup with South Africa.

Van Wyk, a veteran of two Olympic Games campaigns with Banyana Banyana, is hoping to guide the team to the FIFA's showpiece in France next year, and it would be the country's first appearance at the tournament.

But first, they must finish in the top three at the the African Women's Championship in Ghana later this year. The 31-year-old captain is under no illusions that it will be an easy road, after missing out on the 2015 World Cup by a narrow margin.

"The World Cup has always been one of my dreams," the second-year NWSL player tells KweséESPN.

"I have achieved one of those dreams by playing in a professional set-up, and that only happened a year ago, so it just shows you the more you push yourself, something can come out of it.

"We have tried numerous times to qualify for the World Cup and nothing has come of it. Hopefully this time round, with some of the players playing professionally, there really is hope."

Van Wyk feels that because she is one of three NWSL professionals in the national team, along with Dash teammates Thembi Kgatlana and Linda Motlhalo, it will improve the team's chances of making it to the big stage.

"I believe we stand a really good chance, especially with three of us playing high-level competitive football and yes, there will be pressure on us, but I know the other players in the national set-up are just as hungry as I am to qualify," she says.

Van Wyk is almost as famous for her football development exploits as she is for her actual play, as she owns one the the clubs in the SASOL League, which is South Africa's top women's competition.

JvW FC began as a way to get more young girls into the game, and a number of those recruits have gone on to play for the national team, which was Van Wyk's aim from the start.

The founder explains: "In South Africa it has taken a while for women's football to grow. It is getting there slowly and there is more interest in the game, especially after we qualified for the Olympic Games.

"It starts with the development of the sport in our country and if you look here [the US] there are just so many girls playing soccer. You go to any field and there are hundreds of girls participating with boys or in their own leagues, whereas in South Africa we don't have that at all.

"The development stage is really key for us, and you find girls that want to start playing at 14 or 15 years of age, when those development opportunities are missing in their careers.

"The South African Football Association is really working hard on that to get the young girls coming in and playing in their own leagues. Once that is up and running and the association puts their focus on women's football, we will be where America is."

The path for South Africa to the World Cup starts next month when they play Lesotho in a two-legged qualifier for the African Women's Championship. The first game will be played on June 6, with the return on June 10.

The Dash trio are expected to travel to South Africa for the game, where they will work under Banyana head coach Des Ellis.