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Diamond Fields Advertiser - - SPORT - ROD­NEY REINERS SOC­CER WRITER

THERE’S an in­fec­tious en­ergy about Cape Town City mid­fielder Thabo No­dada, both on and off the field. The same an­i­ma­tion he brings to his game can be found in the ebul­lience of his per­son­al­ity. Last week was the re­al­i­sa­tion of a long-held dream for No­dada when he was named in the Bafana Bafana squad for two cru­cial 2019 Africa Cup of Na­tions qual­i­fiers against the Sey­chelles.

For the South African na­tional foot­ball team, vic­tory is paramount if they want to qual­ify for the tour­na­ment to be hosted by Cameroon next year – and No­dada is hop­ing to make a con­tri­bu­tion to the na­tional cause. The first fix­ture against the Sey­chelles is sched­uled for Sat­ur­day at FNB Sta­dium, with the re­turn match next Tues­day at the Stade Li­nite in Vic­to­ria, Sey­chelles.

They say good things hap­pen to good guys – but, also, that great things hap­pen to those who put in the hard yards. No­dada rep­re­sents both of the above, which is why the sprightly City mid­fielder’s se­lec­tion to the Bafana squad is cer­tainly well-de­served.

No­dada has played an in­flu­en­tial role in the City squad since the ar­rival of Benni Mc­Carthy as head coach. When City boss John Comi­tis pur­chased the fran­chise of Mpumalanga Black Aces, he in­her­ited a squad of play­ers which in­cluded No­dada, the 23-year-old from Ix­opo in KwaZulu-Natal. Ini­tially, af­ter the club was re­lo­cated to the Mother City, No­dada was in­jured and never saw much ac­tion. But Mc­Carthy then re­placed Eric Tin­kler as coach, and he im­me­di­ately re­alised the value of the dy­namic, fit-again No­dada.

Ever since the player has been the first name on Mc­Carthy’s team sheet.

No­dada was bril­liant, the beat­ing heart of the team, when City won the MTN8 fi­nal two weeks ago. No doubt, it was that per­for­mance which more than likely per­suaded Bafana coach Stu­art Bax­ter that the City man was ready for an el­e­va­tion to the na­tional squad.

“I’m very happy, I’m very ex­cited,” said No­dada. “To be called up among the best in the coun­try is a great feel­ing, a great hon­our. It shows that what I’m do­ing is ap­pre­ci­ated, not just by my team­mates, but by the na­tional team set-up and the peo­ple of South Africa. I can’t wait to test my­self against the best.

“It means a lot. As a kid grow­ing up, those play­ers are your heroes, and to be with Bafana, and to have the whole na­tion be­hind you, that is the ul­ti­mate goal. For me, to get it at the ten­der age of 23, I have to be proud of my­self. I’m very happy, It means a lot.”

No­dada ad­mit­ted the call-up was a bit of a sur­prise.

“I won’t say it was the least ex­pected this time around,” he said. “Be­fore I was re­ally graft­ing and then, when the squad was named and I wasn’t in it, I would be shat­tered. So I let time take its course. I didn’t put my mind to it a lot be­cause we were in­volved in the MTN8, and that was my main fo­cus.

“A sur­prise, yes, and you could see that in my shock af­ter the an­nounce­ment.” The City mid­fielder ex­plained the change in his game this sea­son, and why he is feel­ing a lot more con­fi­dent.

“A lot of but­tons have changed,” said No­dada. “I think it started when City gave me the Player of the Sea­son award – it was (a) stamp, a val­i­da­tion of my abil­ity.

“It did won­ders for my con­fi­dence. Ev­ery­body be­lieved in me, the coach be­lieved in me, my fam­ily and the peo­ple of Cape Town.

“It’s a great feel­ing – and that has helped me so much in my game.”

Now, as he pre­pares for the Sey­chelles, No­dada isn’t too sure what to ex­pect, but he’s rel­ish­ing the op­por­tu­nity to be part of SA’s best foot­ballers, and to work with Bax­ter.

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