Shakes puts faith in the youngsters
Coach’s new captain expected to be a relatively inexperienced player at international level for the all-important Sudan clash
BAFANA Bafana are not yet a slick unit and are thriving largely on fresh faces desperate to make a mark as they target victory over Sudan in Durban tomorrow to book a spot in the next edition of the Africa Cup of Nations.
So do not be caught “offside” if the new captain who will be named tonight turns out to be a relative novice to international football, said senior national team coach Ephraim Mashaba. Whoever wears the armband on match day only presides over the coin toss to decide which half the team will play from. Rather the coach’s choice of captain will be based on the unifying quality that the person brings to the camp.
And as if to emphasise the point that the Bafana Bafana engine is running on new players, Mashaba yesterday roped in the PSL’s joint top scorer Moeketsi Sekola. The Free State Stars forward was set to join the camp yesterday to fill one of two vacancies created by injury to midfielder Sibusiso Vilakazi and the withdrawal of attacker May Mahlangu who was subsequently banned indefinitely from national selection by Safa.
“A lot of people are basing the selection of the captain on senior players. Wait for surprises,” said the coach at the team hotel on Durban beachfront yesterday. “The duty of the captain is to do the toss and say which way the team will face. We are not going to question the referee’s decision. We’re only looking at the camp and how the captain brings everyone together.”
The issue of the captaincy arises from the recent, tragic murder of Durban-born goalkeeper Senzo Meyiwa, himself a newcomer to the senior national set-up. His death caused two voids in the squad, but Mashaba expects the vibrancy of youth to help overcome that setback.
Tomorrow afternoon’s penultimate qualifying match in Group A will be played in honour of Meyiwa.
The tie was shifted from the Mbombela Stadium to Meyiwa’s home city as a tribute to him. Kick-off at Moses Mabhida Stadium is 3pm.
“With Senzo what happened, happened. We indicated to the goalkeepers that the Senzo incident is gone. All these players are looking to make their mark in that position. We can only hope the players’ minds are okay; this type of thing can make a very serious impact on a player,” said Mashaba.
Whoever between Nhlanhla Khuzwayo, Darren Keet and Siyabonga Mpontshane is selected will have huge gloves to fill. Meyiwa was the backbone of the side as he racked up four clean sheets. Defensively the mission will be to deny Sudan width and contain them in the middle of the park because they are strong out wide, said Mashaba. That’s where the experience of Reneilwe Letsholonyane, 32, the oldest player in the squad, and England-based Dean Furman’s work ethic would be crucial in squeezing Sudan for space.
An even bigger challenge lies at the opposite end where strikers Tokelo Rantie, Lehlohonolo Majoro and Bongani Ndulula will search for South Africa’s first home goal and victory. Three points will ensure South Africa’s qualification. Sudan lie bottom of the standings with three points from one win – against Nigeria – and are very much in the race if they win tomorrow and against Congo in Khartoum on Wednesday in their final group game.
Sekola probably arrived too late to be considered for this match, but competition for places elsewhere in the side should be enough to carry Bafana Bafana past the pressure barrier, reckons Mashaba. “We have not been doing well as a national team. For us to be where we are, we have surprised ourselves. It’s a new team, everyone wants to make a mark, and that’s why we are where we are.”
PLENTY TO PONDER: Shakes Mashaba has been surprised how well his ‘new, young Bafana’ team has done and is hoping for another positive result against Sudan in Durban tomorrow.