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PHOKENG: Pitso Mosimane has backed Bafana Bafana captain Steven Pienaar to find his scoring touch at international level as his side prepare to take on Ethiopia in a 2014 World Cup qualifier in Rustenburg on Sunday.
Pienaar, who has scored a paltry three goals in 60 appearances for his country, has had a stellar few months for Everton in the English Premier League, netting key goals against Chelsea, Manchester United and Sunderland.
For all his undoubted class, “Schillo” has too often battled for club and country when it comes to hitting the back of the net. But the 29-year-old revealed yesterday that a chat with Everton coach David Moyes has helped him sharpen up since he rejoined the Goodison Park side on loan from Tottenham Hotspur in January.
“When I went back to Everton, I sat down with the coach and he wanted me to get more into the box and the final third, and to be a bit more selfish. I’ve been working on it in training, and (now) I hope I can get more goals for the national team,” Pienaar said yesterday.
His increased drive to get forward has certainly been noticed by the Bafana coach.
“He’s improved his game; it’s slightly different,” Mosimane remarked. “He goes inside more now, he gets in there, and that is why he scores goals. He takes shots, he takes his chances.”
A battle to bulge the net has been a disease that has ravaged Bafana for some time now, with their failure to score the major reason why they failed to qualify for the 2012 African Nations Cup, never mind the much-publicised rules fiasco.
Starting against lowly Ethiopia, Mosimane must turn around this goal-shy nature if Bafana are to have any chance of making it to Brazil 2014. On paper, the Ethiopians are the worst side in a qualifying group also containing Botswana and the Central African Republic.
The return of 34-year-old Siyabonga Nomvethe on the back of 20 league goals and the PSL Footballer of the Year award has to be cause for some optimism, as far too much striking pressure has been put on Katlego Mphela’s shoulders.
“Bhele (Nomvethe) has been around for so many years, he knows what is expected at the highest level,” Pienaar said. “It’s good to have him in the team. At the end of the day, he’s as sharp as always. He looks like he’s 20 years old!”
Mosimane, meanwhile, stressed that the burden of scoring should be carried by the whole team.
“It’s not about waiting for Mphela and Nomvethe to score,” he said. “Pienaar is scoring and has brought that here, Shabba (Siphiwe Tshabalala) is scoring, even (Siyabonga) Sangweni and (Morgan) Gould have been scoring, so hopefully it rubs off.”
The whole squad were together for the first time yesterday at the Royal Bafokeng Sports Campus in Phokeng, with Sundowns and SuperSport players joining the fray following the Nedbank Cup final. The main absentee was Thulani Serero, who has been given compassionate leave following the passing of his father.
“Thulani must take as much time as he wants during this situation. We understand and support him during these difficult times and send our deepest condolences to him and his family,” Mosimane said.
Orlando Pirates goalkeeper Moeneeb Josephs is, of course, also not in Phokeng, having announced his decision to retire from international football. However, Mosimane refused to close the door on his future, even suggesting that he had until yesterday to show up if he wanted to still be considered for Sunday’s game.
“We haven’t closed the door; he is still part of the national team and if he wants to present himself, he can come … Hopefully he changes his mind.”
“Today if the official Fifa day for players to be in camp, and Moeneeb is still within his rights to pitch today.”
Mosimane did, however, have no time for the suggestion that Josephs was not getting a proper opportunity in terms of game-time for the national team.
“Ask Pa (Gaxa) if he gets reasonable game-time against Anele (Ngongca). Ask (Siyabonga) Sangweni, when Aaron (Mokoena) was playing, if he was getting reasonable game-time. It’s not for me to say how many minutes you are playing.
“I read somewhere, look at (Victor) Valdes of Barcelona. He’s won so many cups, more than (Iker) Casillas, but he’s waiting. How long did (Itumeleng Khune) wait for Rowen (Fernandez)? How long is Senzo (Meyiwa) waiting for Moeneeb (at Pirates)?
“I love Moeneeb. He’s got passion, and at training he does everything. When he is here, there are no issues. (But) he played in two of three games at the World Cup, and he played against Ivory Coast and Zimbabwe in two of our last four games.”