CRUNCH WEEK­END FOR BOKS, BAFANA AND PROTEAS

BAFANA: CON­FI­DENT RANTIE READY TO RUM­BLE

The Star Early Edition - - FRONT PAGE - MAZOLA MOLEFE @su­per­journo

SU­PER Ea­gles tor­men­tor-in-chief, Bafana Bafana striker Tokelo Rantie, hasn’t felt this good about his form in many years. And that speaks vol­umes given the fact that the Turk­ish-based for­ward has been by far the best goal-get­ter for the na­tional team even dur­ing a dif­fi­cult pe­riod in his ca­reer when he was side­lined by English Premier League side Bournemouth be­fore he made the switch to Gençler­birli i in Au­gust last year. Ahead of to­mor­row’s cru­cial 2019 Africa Cup of Na­tions qual­i­fier against Nige­ria in Uyo, Rantie opened up about why Eddie Howe, the Bournemouth man­ager, mostly thought of him as sur­plus to re­quire­ments. “You wouldn’t be­lieve my story if I told you,” said Rantie. “It was not about me be­ing down on my luck or any­thing like that. I spent a lot of time in dis­cus­sion with my pre­vi­ous man­ager (Howe) about why I was not play­ing. When I moved to Eng­land I was 1.70 me­tres tall and he came to watch me in Malmo and sud­denly when I ar­rived in Eng­land my height was a prob­lem. It was not a mat­ter of me not get­ting chances or not per­form­ing at train­ing. Most of the time I felt I de­served a chance, but his style of play didn’t suit mine, it seems. That was the only rea­son he gave me and that is when I de­cided ‘I don’t think I should stay here any longer than I have’. I went to Turkey to prove to any­one who doubted me all along in Eng­land, to say I am ca­pa­ble. I have al­ways said to peo­ple I am not the best foot­baller, but I am a hard worker and that is how I achieved any suc­cess.”

In three years with the Cher­ries, Rantie only man­aged 59 games, mostly com­ing off the bench with very lit­tle time left on the clock, and con­trib­uted with six goals. That was hardly a rea­son to omit him from the Bafana squad for then coaches Gor­don Ige­sund and Shakes Mashaba.

When he named his 25-man squad to travel to Nige­ria for this week­end’s im­por­tant Af­con qual­i­fier, cur­rent na­tional team coach Stu­art Bax­ter made it clear there was no way he was fac­ing the Su­per Ea­gles with­out Rantie, who “scared” the 2013 African cham­pi­ons in their pre­vi­ous two qual­i­fiers for the 2015 edi­tion of the con­ti­nen­tal tour­na­ment – a goal­less draw in Cape Town and a 2-2 draw in Uyo.

The sad tale of his Bournemouth ca­reer could have con­trib­uted to his dis­ap­pear­ing act days be­fore Bafana were to face Burk­ina Faso in their open­ing World Cup qual­i­fier away in Oua­gadougou eight months ago, much to Mashaba’s agony.

“I am happy to be back in the na­tional team,” said Rantie. “Things hap­pen, and I am here now and given an­other chance and that is my main fo­cus. It comes at a time when I am do­ing well at my club and we are play­ing Nige­ria. I re­mem­ber very well what I did to them last time, but this is a new chap­ter.”

Ige­sund, Mashaba and now Bax­ter, are not the only coaches with full con­fi­dence in Rantie, He said that Gençler­birli i man­ager, Umit Ozat, also falls into that cat­e­gory af­ter bring­ing back his ap­petite for the game – some­thing he was los­ing as he grew frus­trated at Bournemouth.

“It didn’t start well for me in Turkey be­cause I ar­rived there with no game time in two years and I also had to ad­just to the league. The man­ager ac­tu­ally gave me so much con­fi­dence and af­ter that it was al­most im­pos­si­ble for me not to play well,” ex­plained Rantie. “I think in the last cou­ple of months I have been do­ing well. What is im­por­tant is what I’m do­ing on the field. I have no stress, I have be­lief in the play­ers around me in the na­tional team and I think the time to fear Nige­ria (who have faced Bafana 12 times and lost once in a friendly in 2004) is long gone.”

PIC­TURES: BACKPAGE PIX

THE CAP­TAINS: From left War­ren White­ley, Thu­lani Hlatshwayo and AB de Vil­liers.

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