KICK OFF: Vera, thanks for speaking to us. You have been in charge of four games since you took over as Banyana Banyana coach in March winning two, drawing one and losing one. Are you happy with how things are going?
Pauw: The team is developing very fast. The players are keen to improve and to learn in detail how to get to the top level but it is a long process. The team has performed very well in the past, but we have to grow to the world’s top level to be able to win trophies. This means winning from opponents who have had a youth development process at the top level from at least 12 years of age and are full professionals now. The first steps went very quickly which is exciting for the future. With the support of our great sponsor Sasol, the full support of our management of SAFA and the tremendous work rate of the colleagues of SAFA to make this programme happening, we can only look forward to this fantastic challenge. The way to the World Cup lies open, we have to do it now, together!
KICK OFF: Your immediate task is to prepare Banyana Banyana for the CAF African Women Championships scheduled for October in Windhoek, Namibia from 11 – 25 October. Do you think the friendly against Namibia on Saturday at Sam Nujoma Stadium will assist a great deal in your preparations?
Pauw: We had planned to go on a West Africa tour. For several reasons this could not happen but I am very, very happy with the replacement of this game against Namibia and next week against Zimbabwe. Here in Namibia we can experience the great progress of our neighbours, but most of all, we can experience the environment ahead of the tournament later this year. I must say, I am impressed with the facilities and it is good to have the opportunity to see and feel them.
KICK OFF: Since the top three teams from the CAF African Women Championships qualify for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada and Banyana are currently number four in Africa, what are the country’s chances of finishing as one of the top three teams?
Pauw: The chances are there, but it will not be an easy road. All teams are capable of qualifying, the gaps are closing rapidly. All teams have good programmes and all players train now on a daily basis. That is a huge difference with the past. But, we can promise all fans in South Africa that we will be ready to compete in October. We will not leave anything unused or ‘forgotten’ in our preparation. We will then see if it is good enough. The big countries in women’s football in Africa like Nigeria, Cameroon and Cote d’Ivoire are of course the first ones to beat, but countries like Zambia can never be underestimated as they play good football with strong and very fit players. We are looking forward to the challenge!
KICK OFF: Banyana Banyana are ranked 51st in world football and fourth in Africa, while Africa’s highest ranked side is Nigeria at number 34 in the world and first in Africa. Do you think South Africa has the potential to catch up with them based on what you have seen since taking over?
Pauw: Africa definitely has the potential to grow to the world’s best level. But the key difference with other continents is the youth development programme. In Europe, players have annual and ongoing competition at international level from the age of 15! The moment the top players enter the A-Squad they have experienced already around 40 international games, including full time preparation programmes. Therefore, the first thing I would advise CAF if I was given the opportunity, is to set up an annual U17 and U19 competition with every two years to use these championships as qualifying tournaments for the respective World Cups. We have numerous highly talented players, but we just have to make sure these talented players get the chance to develop to international top players in the future.
KICK OFF: What, in your opinion, is the biggest challenge facing Banyana Banyana or women’s football in general in South Africa and how do we go about solving that problem to ensure we can be among the best in the world?
Pauw: The next step in the development of our best and highly talented players is to set up a top League, containing a maximum of 10 teams, training and playing within a top level sports environment. If we manage to get that going, South Africa will grow to the world’s top level within 10 years. There is no doubt about that. But, the facilities must be at the level that the preconditions for development are normal practice. This runs from highly qualified coaches, medical staff, equipment, pitches, refereeing and administrating. A huge challenge, but we are working on the plans. If it will be feasible, we’ll find out in the very near future!