JOHANNESBURG - Tuesday night's friendly international against Angola in East London is the final day of auditions for Bafana Bafana players. Well, at least for those who were called up for the game and the previous friendly against Guinea-Bissau in Durban at the weekend.
While these sort of matches are often arranged as a way to fill up the Fifa calendar on an international week, the absence of a permanent coach - since Shakes Mashaba was sacked three months ago - as well as the return of some of the forgotten men like Kamohelo Mokotjo and Kermit Erasmus helped promote awareness.
Owen da Gama, the caretaker coach, has promised to ring the changes for the Angola clash at the Buffalo City Stadium on the back of an impressive 3-1 victory over a decent Guinea-Bissau team, this year’s Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) debutants. The injuries to Mulomowandau Mathoho (skin abrasion), Thulani Hlatshwayo (groin), Andile Jali (shoulder) and Dean Furman (groin) mean they are doubts for the match, forcing Da Gama to deliver on his promise.
“It’s a concern when you have players injured, but the good thing is that we have brought a good number of players (the coach picked a 25-man squad) with lots of quality so we will not rush these ones back. We had already said we are going to make changes so if the quartet doesn’t recover in time we are still covered,” Da Gama said yesterday.
And it makes sense to throw the gauntlet to those who either started on the bench on Saturday afternoon or were in the stands.
Safa president Danny Jordaan told reporters in a press conference shortly after the game that the association would appoint Mashaba’s successor once these two matches were out of the way. Although he could not give a specific date, Jordaan said the preferred candidate had been “identified”.
The players believe that the new man, whoever he is, could have been watching them against Guinea-Bissau and will probably be taking notes when they face Angola.
Everyone is eager to see if young Phakamani Mahlambi and Luther Singh, the hero in the Under-20s road to qualifying for the World Cup in South Korea in May, are worthy of promotion to the senior team or whether it is just too early.
Gavin Hunt, who is Mahlambi’s coach at Wits, argued recently that the call-up was premature as he believes the winger has been struggling with form despite playing in patches since his return from a cruciate ligament injury that kept him on the sidelines for nearly a year, and ruled him out of the Rio Olympics.
But it’s unlikely the player shares the same sentiments and he might get to prove why as he is expected to feature against Angola. Singh finished top of the scorer’s charts at the Under-20 Afcon in Zambia earlier this month, and, although he is far from the finished product, it would seem folly if he doesn’t at least get a look in at Bafana level. Mahlambi and Singh are just two in a list of players desperate to raise their hands as the road to the 2019 Afcon begins in June, with a crucial trip to an improving Nigeria side - as well as picking up where they left off in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers before Mashaba was sent packing.