Amanda Dlamini

The first time Amanda Dlamini played football, she was just standing in to make up the numbers for some local boys. But she had good fun, so she joined a club and before the age of 20 she had debuted for the national side. Later this year “Toki”, as teammates know her, will captain Banyana Banyana for their Olympic debut in London.

Dlamini was a solid footballer when she began her studies at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) in 2007, but she was there for the academics. Joining the UJ ladies’ team was a fringe benefit. Nonetheless, the striker was soon firing in goals at such a rate that national selectors came looking. Dlamini was drafted into the national setup and debuted in green and gold that July against Nigeria.

In 2010 Dlamini was nominated for the South African Football Association’s Women’s Player of the Year award and finished as top goal-scorer at the African Women’s Championship. Despite her reputation as a sharpshooter in front of the posts, Dlamini calls her biggest asset “the ability to motivate the players around me”. Management must have agreed, as they gave her the captain’s armband in late 2010.

In July 2011, and freshly reborn as an attacking midfielder, Dlamini repaid that faith and led Banyana to a 4-1 aggregate victory over Ethiopia, and with that the right to attend the 2012 Games in London. “For those last few minutes of the game we knew we had done it,” she recalls. “When the whistle went, it was the best feeling ever.”

Tours to Brazil and Cyprus have given the skipper a feel for the sort of opposition they’ll face in London. “They will be very physical and really disciplined,” she says. “But our biggest asset is our flair, which makes us unpredictable. We can cause a surprise.”

Ian Macleod