Gordon Igesund believes Bafana Bafana can still give World Cup bound Australia the tough challenge they need to prepare for the showpiece, even though he has had to pick practically a whole new squad at the last minute to face the Socceroos.
Igesund has been left in a tailspin following the withdrawal of 10 players from the original squad he announced in April for the friendly internationals against Australia and New Zealand this month.
The coach and team manager Barney Kujane have been working tirelessly to get replacements for players who are either injured or have not been released by their clubs for various reasons.
Both matches fall outside the Fifa calender and clubs are not obliged to release players.
Itumeleng Khune, Kagisho Dikgacoi, Tsepo Masilela, Siphiwe Tshabalala, Bernard Parker, Andile Jali, Siyanda Xulu and Sibusiso Vilakazi have all withdrawn from the squad and they could be joined by Oupa Manyisa and Thabo Matlaba, who were both being assessed by the medical team yesterday.
In come Hlompho Kekana, Thuso Phala, Senzo Meyiwa, Thato Mokeke, Mulomowandau Mathoho and in-form midfielder Teko Modise. Bafana are due to leave tomorrow and will play Australia on Monday.
“If I look at the players that are missing, nine of them would have probably started the match. But I am optimistic and I will try put something together with these players and hopefully we can be competitive. We do not want to disrespect them (Australia). This is the strongest team I can have.
“It’s important that the players I have selected now feel good about themselves. It’s no good me saying that I have a weak team. What message am I sending to my players?
“These players are part of a squad that are going to be fighting for a place to qualify us for the 2015 Nations Cup. Now let’s see what we can do.”
Igesund said he could not ignore Modise after his impressive performances towards the end of the campaign pushed Mamelodi Sundowns to league success.
“I brought in Teko because I need to acknowledge the form he is at the moment.
“When I originally picked my squad, I went public and said that if this was a qualifying match, then Teko would be in my squad. He is not a player that needs to play in these friendly matches to gain experience. He has a lot of experience.”
Orlando Pirates’s Nedbank Cup hero Kermit Erasmus was called up as a replacement for the injured Parker, but the stocky striker is on holiday in The Netherlands and will not be part of the team. Igesund did not even know about this.
“It’s very difficult. The players have had a tough season. To get a late call-up now is quite difficult.
“They spend money on holidays. I have not heard from Kermit at this stage.”
Kujane added to Igesund’s statement on Erasmus.
“The call-up letter was sent to his club yesterday and Pirates have acknowledged to have received it. We have been trying to phone Kermit, but his phone is off. Pirates also did not mention that he is gone.”
Meanwhile, Bafana team doctor Carl Tabane gave a breakdown of the injuries to the Kaizer Chiefs players.
“Itumeleng pulled his groin. He is not in good condition to travel to Australia. And Parker has been struggling with his ankle for the past two seasons. I think he should have been managed properly a long time ago. He saw a specialist so he is due to get proper treatment.
“Shabba (Tshabalala) had a sprained toe. He has been playing at Chiefs with injections throughout. His toe was swollen and he was struggling to walk. Masilela has been suffering with a knee injury for quite a long time now. He has had surgery twice already”.