Saturday Star

Khosi keeper Khune backs veteran Essam

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“Watching the Afcon with us not being there has been difficult,” Khune said. “Every player wants to compete at the highest level. I would have loved to be in Gabon; that’s why the other day I posted a picture of myself and Africa’s No 1 (El-Hadary), the 44-year-old who is still going strong. “Seeing him do that at his age motivates me.

“If I take good care of myself and invest in this body, I can play until I am his age.

“I tell the guys that if we (Bafana) were there, we would have gone far in the tournament looking at the fact that we beat Senegal.

“We need to change our mindset and start taking these competitio­ns seriously – not just the players, but Safa as a whole. They need to support the team.”

Khune is backing El-Hadary and his teammates to be African champions in Libreville.

Seeing the oldest player to feature in the Afcon do his thing, going for more than five hours without conceding a goal in the Afcon, reminded Khune of his young self.

“I remember when he scored against my South African idol, Brian Baloyi (in the 2002 CAF Super Cup that Chiefs lost 4-1 to Al-Ahly),” Khune said.

“That’s when I started following him because I had heard about him but had not seen him in action. I was still at the academy then, staying at a boarding school. We would watch TV until a certain time before we had to go study or sleep. After I left boarding school, I could watch TV anytime and I got to follow most of the players.

“That helped me do some research about them. I didn’t just wait for the club to give me their analysis on our opponents, I did it on my own first.

“I still do that, like when we recently played Burkina Faso. I did my own research to see where (Jonathan) Pitroipa normally takes his penalty (which is how I saved it). That research is important because you’re investing in your own career. You see where you need to improve.”

Chiefs don’t need research to know they’ll be thoroughly tested by Free State Stars on Tuesday at FNB Stadium as the Absa Premiershi­p resumes after a lengthy break.

Ea Lla Koto have had a turbulent season, from being put on sale in a deal that fell apart to changing coaches twice already. Stars are just two points ahead of bottom-placed Baroka FC.

Chiefs are a point behind first-placed SuperSport United, who have a game in hand.

Amakhosi finished the first half of the season on a positive note, registerin­g back-to-back wins that pushed them into the top four. The final stretch of the league race will be a gruelling campaign, ending late in June.

It will have fixtures congested with the Nedbank Cup squeezed in between.

“This is a difficult time in the league because every team is fighting for something, others want to avoid relegation, others want to be in the top eight and others are fighting for the championsh­ip,” Khune said.

“We have set ourselves the goal of winning the championsh­ip and the Nedbank Cup.

“The break we had gave us an opportunit­y to work on a lot of things, like finishing, which we struggled with.

“Our strikers are hungry ... they’re in the right frame of mind. They’re eager to score more goals.

“I was looking at the scoring charts; none of our guys are there but a team like Chiefs should be dominating that list. We really need to pull up our socks going into the second half of the season.”

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