CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - Ode Fulutudilu’s early life was one of upheaval as her family fled Zaire and then Angola, but her selection for South Africa at the 2019 women’s World Cup shows she has not let those tough beginnings define her.
Fulutudilu’s family ended up as refugees in Cape Town, forced further and further south by war and instability, and it was there that she carved out a soccer career that has led her to play in Finland, and more recently at Spanish side Malaga.
The forward will hope to play a role in South Africa’s opening World Cup clash against Spain in Le Havre on Saturday, where she has already earmarked what would be a personal highlight of the tournament.
“To score the winning goal against Spain would be amazing,” she said with a beaming smile at the team’s training base in Rouen. “The game is extremely important, because if we can get something out of it, it gives us a foundation to build on.
“If we don’t get something from the game, it is going to be a very long road for us in terms of trying to get out of the group.”
Kinshasa-born Fulutudilu, 29, has recently been recalled to the squad after just 11 previous appearances since making her debut in 2014, often overlooked to the surprise of many.
A former student of Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee, she is one of a number of South African players to have used United States college teams to hone their game.
She recalls frustration in not being called to play for her adopted country, but says that is now behind her as she looks only forward.
“When I was in Finland (at ONS) and still didn’t make the squad, then I was wondering if I would ever make it because I was playing in a professional league and still not being called up.
“But I saw how I measured up to other professional players and that gave me hope that I would get other opportunities,” she said.
For Fulutudilu, this World Cup is potentially her only chance to play on this stage, something she acknowledges will drive her ambition.
“It is something a lot of us will not get to experience again given our age and where we are at. That should motivate us to give our absolute best.
“No matter what happens I will just take a moment to take it in and appreciate the journey,” Fulutudilu said.
Debutants South Africa will also play China (June 13) and Germany (June 17) in Group B.
Reporting By Nick Said; Editing by Christian Radnedge