at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
With little more than a month before they open the African Nations Cup against Cape Verde, Gordon Igesund will today afford one final opportunity to players he’s yet to see in Bafana Bafana action, when he names the squad to take on Malawi in next week’s friendly.
Long-term injuries robbed the likes of Katlego Mphela and Benni McCarthy of selection chances in Igesund’s first five matches, but the strikers’ return to the playing field in the past week will have had Igesund grinning.
The Bafana coach doesn’t have a lot of time, with the opening Group A clash against Cape Verde taking place in 38 days’ time, and it would be safe to assume those who miss the cut today for the clash against Malawi, and the camp that begins on December 27, could well forget about playing in the continental showpiece when South Africa host it for the second time from January 19 to February 10.
Bafana have scored in two matches – against a weakened Mozambique and lowly-ranked Kenya – under Igesund, finding it tough going against stronger defences such as those of Zambia and Poland.
But the return to action of ‘Killer’ Mphela, in particular, should be seen as great news for Bafana as they attempt to make it out of their Nations Cup group for the first time since 2002. The Mamelodi Sundowns striker scored a crucial winner in his first start of the season at the weekend, when the Brazilians beat Black Leopards.
Igesund watched that game from the Atteridgeville stands, and television cameras picked him flashing a grin after Mphela’s goal. And so he should be happy, as Mphela has been Bafana’s most potent striker in the past two years.
Igesund is also a known admirer of McCarthy, the Orlando Pirates striker who, like Mphela, returned to action last Wednesday, although without the luck of a goal in the two games he played.
While McCarthy is known to have fitness challenges, Igesund has sung his praises so much so that some have stated it’s a foregone conclusion that the forward would find a place in the final 23-man squad, which the national coach has to name by January 10.
A clash against Malawi’s Flames – ranked 101st in the world – should afford McCarthy, 35, a perfect platform to show if he can still cut it at international level, after his return to the national side in September ended in embarrassment when he limped off nine minutes after coming on as a substitute.
Those who find it laughable that McCarthy’s name is being linked with the national team, when he missed the World Cup two years ago because he could not prove his fitness, could also point out that there are other younger strikers who deserve a look-in.
Lehlohonolo Majoro has caught up with his teammate Bernard Parker at the top of the Absa Premiership scorers’ chart, and with Igesund’s squad for the Malawi tie set to be comprised almost exclusively of local-based players, it would be a travesty if the Kaizer Chiefs man’s name is missing from the lineup today.
News that Sundowns’ Punch Masenamela will miss up to six weeks of action due to injury also opens up a place at leftback, and Igesund could well try out Tsepo Masilela, of Chiefs, who also only recently returned to competitive action. In the goalkeeping department, Moeneeb Josephs has not played for over a month and thus is certain to miss the Malawi clash, but will Igesund be bold and give his Pirates deputy Senzo Meyiwa, who has performed so admirably in the past five weeks, a chance?
The clash against Malawi takes place in Durban next Saturday, followed by friendlies against Norway in Cape Town (January 8) and Algeria (Orlando, January 12). - The Star