Thembi Kgatlana put her stamp on the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup with one of the most dramatic goals in South African soccer history, defeating Italy 3-2 in stoppage time to send her team to the knockout round of 16.

Then after the match ended and the celebrations ebbed, Kgatlana revealed that she pulled off her heroics while playing in the wake of near unimaginable family tragedy.

“Over the last two weeks, I’ve lost three family members,” Kgatlana told the media during her post-match interview, “I could have gone home but I chose to stay with my girls. Because that’s how much it means.”

There are no words to accurately convey the sorrow and anguish Kgatlana must have been feeling after the death of three family members. In full context, her ability to rise to the occasion athletically and play a pivotal role in her team advancing to the next round seemed almost indescribable.

With the score tied 2-2 in the 92nd minute, South Africa went on the attack as forward Hildah Magaia sprung herself loose from the top of the box. With only the goalkeeper between her and the match winner, Magaia centered the ball to Kgatlana who unloaded it into the back of the net, struck a victorious pose, and set off celebrations throughout her homeland.

Kgatlana strikes a post-goal pose alongside teammate Mapula Kgoale.

In addition to grieving the family members she lost, Kgatlana also was playing in the World Cup as a comeback from a torn Achilles tendon that cost her 10 months in 2022.

“I came back from a very brutal injury to be here, to play for the country, to represent every single girl that wanted to be here, to make history with the girls for South Africa,” she declared.

Once Kgatlana’s shot found its mark, she had accomplished everything she set out to do. In that moment, she became one of the most celebrated and inspirational members of Team LGBTQ in the entire tournament. During previous matches, she has represented our community by proudly rocking a rainbow fade haircut on the pitch.

As long as soccer is played in South Africa, Kgatlana’s name will be remembered and her courage after suffering unspeakable loss will forever be part of the story of her legendary goal.

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