Sam Marsden, Barcelona correspondentAug 2, 2023, 08:46 AM ET

South Africa’s matchwinner Thembi Kgatlana revealed she has lost three family members while at the World Cup after helping her country beat Italy 3-2 to reach the knockout rounds for the first time.

Kgatlana struck in the 92nd minute as the Banyana Banyana secured their first ever World Cup win to set up a round-of-16 tie with the Netherlands, knocking out Italy in the process.

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“I’m so emotional,” said Kgatlana, who plays for Racing Louisville in the United States and only returned from an Achilles tendon injury in May following 10 months out of action.

“Over the last three weeks, I have lost three family members, I could have gone home, but I chose to stay with my girls because that’s how much it means.

“I came back from a brutal injury and for me to be here and play for the country and represent every single girl who wanted to be here, to make history for South Africa, everyone deserves it.

“Every time I wear this jersey, it’s not just for myself, it’s for the 63 million people at home – and all the others here in Wellington.

“I don’t just represent myself. I represent my club as well, the girls, our families. What we did here… it still has to sink in.”

Progress to the round of 16 means the South African players will double their prize money, with FIFA telling national federations players should be paid $30,000 for participation in the group stage and $60,000 if they reach the first knockout round.

“That is life changing for us,” goalkeeper Kaylin Swart said. “It’s only numbers that we can dream of. Women’s football in South Africa is not professional, so we don’t get paid really.

“I work a full time job, I work 9-5 every day and train 7-9 at night. It is tough to be a footballer in South Africa. We do what we can for the love of the game and hopefully one day we will be professionalised.

“We have made history tonight. This is massive for us as a country, as a footballing nation. A lot of young girls can look at us now and see us as role models.

“They will see us as their heroes, hopefully that is the case. I think it is the fact we have grown so much as a nation and come so far. We are living our dream right now.”

Hildah Magaia, who scored South Africa’s second goal and set up the winner, echoed Swart’s sentiment.

“[The money] really means I will be able to help my family,” she said. “I will be able to do everything for my mother, because I am the one who is taking care of her – I am the bread winner.

“In my country and my team, they call me ‘bread winner.’ I think that rubs off on me. The coaches told me they need the bread so I need to provide the bread [on the pitch] as the bread winner.

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“I believe I took that with me and went on the field and told myself that I need to stay calm so I can utilise the chances that I get.”

South Africa have lit up the World Cup with their dancing and singing before and after games, something which is unlikely to stop following their historic result against Italy.

“I don’t think we will sleep tonight,” Swart added. “This is something we dreamt of for so many years. In 28 years of my life, this has never happened and now it happens to my generation.

“We are just going to live in the moment. Tomorrow we will be back to business on the training ground, but tonight we are going to enjoy it and be in the moment.”

Kgatlana added: “We will be singing a lot and dancing and listening to music – maybe the whole time until we fly to Sydney [for the round of 16].

“The last game we drew against Argentina but on the flight back we were playing music. I don’t know if the air hostess liked it, but that’s us.”

Italy would have progressed with a draw and took the lead from the penalty spot through Arianna Caruso. South Africa fought back through a Benedetta Orsi own goal and Magaia’s effort, but looked to be heading home when Caruso added her second of the night.

However, in the second minute of added time, Magaia displayed a cool head to cross for Kgatlana, whose goal was the cue for wild celebrations on the pitch and in the stands at Wellington Regional Stadium.

The win took South Africa through as runners-up in Group G behind Sweden, with Italy and Argentina both eliminated.