Bloemfontein Celtic captain Thabo Nthethe was caught on the back foot at Bafana Bafana training this week when he was asked about his team drawing Kaizer Chiefs in the quarter-finals of the Nedbank Cup.
After a brief hesitation, he said he had already launched a mini-warning to the Chiefs players when they got off the plane ahead of South Africa’s World Cup qualifier against the Central Africa Republic at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday night (kick-off 8.15pm).
“Chiefs players told me it’s going to be really tough, but I told them there is no way they can come to Bloemfontein without getting hurt,” said Nthethe, while cautiously looking around to see if there were any Amakhosi players in close proximity.
Of course, the City of Roses has been like a fortress for Celtic over the last few years, as their passionate fans seldom experience the despair of defeat at either the Free State Stadium or the under-construction Seisa Ramabodu Stadium.
Siwelele create a spine-chilling atmosphere for big matches, with lots of singing and choreographed dancing moves.
They are the proverbial 12th man, who more often than not help to lift Celtic to victory.
Cape Town hasn’t quite had that effect on Bafana, even though the national team have enjoyed massive support in their last three encounters in the Mother City.
Recent matches against Zambia, the United States and Norway have seen sell-out crowds that create an electric atmosphere, but nothing in the wins column.
However, Nthethe is confident they can turn their fortunes around in the country’s oldest city and put on a show for the locals, even though the pressure is going to be immense as Bafana try and get their qualifying campaign back on track.
“When we prepared for the Africa Cup of Nations we played in Cape Town against Norway, and we got good support from the fans. I think we will again get good support, but this time we must make sure we do our best, so that after the game the people can go home with a big smile on their faces,” Nthethe said.
“There is going to be pressure, but we want to continue and build on the platform we built at Afcon. We are playing at home and we don’t need to fear any team. We just need to make sure that we get the result.”
Nthethe will probably have to keep the club talk in his Celtic kit bag this week, especially as he is likely to partner Chiefs centre-back Morgan Gould in the heart of the Bafana defence on Saturday night.
Coach Gordon Igesund has been left with a bit of a conundrum after he dropped Afcon captain Bongani Khumalo from the squad and losing Siyabonga Sangweni to injury. But Nthethe has been in and around the Bafana squad since Igesund took over, and is also one of the more experienced campaigners in the group.
And for such an important match, Igesund is unlikely to risk youngsters Mulomowandau Mathoho and Siyanda Xulu for such an important encounter, although both are seen as future stars.
Nthethe, though, would not be drawn into the speculation of who might start, instead saying they will have to work harder to offset the loss of Sangweni and Chiefs left-back Tsepo Masilela.
“To lose a player like Sangweni is a massive blow for the team. Everyone knows he is a good player, and he did well for us during the Nations Cup,” Nthethe said.
“But we believe that every player here is capable of doing a good job. The coach called up Mathoho, so we believe we can do the same job as Sangweni. We just need to stay focused after losing two good players.”
Meanwhile, midfielder Siphiwe Tshabalala was yesterday cleared to continue training with the team after his MRI results on his injured knee came back better than expected.
The Chiefs player didn’t take part in training at Athlone Stadium on Monday afternoon and yesterday morning due to some discomfort at the back of his knee. But Tshabalala is expected to take part in his first training session tomorrow night at the match venue. - The Star