South Africa’s friendly international against Malawi in Durban next weekend will be the last competitive outing for fringe players to impress the national coach before the final African Cup of Nations squad is announced on December 30.
The 24-man Bafana Bafana squad to face Malawi at the Moses Mabhida Stadium on December 22 was announced by head coach Gordon Igesund in the city yesterday. Thereafter a further 12 players will join this squad for a mini training camp in Johannesburg before the Afcon squad is announced. That would allow Igesund to test his Afcon squad in the two remaining friendlies against Norway and Algeria before the tournament kicks off on January 19.
“We initially intended to name the final squad after the match against Norway on January 9, but after careful consideration we have decided to name the squad at the end of our upcoming December camp so that when we start the January camp we have all the players we are going to use in the tournament. That will enable them to play together the last two preparation matches against Norway and Algeria,” said Igesund.
“I have been using the past five matches to look at various players and this one against Malawi is no different. The only difference is that this is the last chance for me and my technical team to have a final look at what we have at our disposal. Time for observing and assessing the players is almost over, and I believe this match will give us an indication of where we are and where we are going.”
The latter group of 12 players includes mostly players based abroad and those returning from long term injuries, such as midfielder Thulani Serero and strikers Katlego Mphela and Benni McCarthy who returned to club duty last weekend.
While there may still be opportunities for players not included in these two groups to force their way into the final squad, Igesund said the bulk of the tournament squad will be selected from these 36 players.
Belgium-based midfielder Ayanda Patosi is the only newcomer to the squad, while defender Siyanda Xulu, midfielder Daine Klate and goalkeeper Senzo Meyiwa return following lengthy absences. Golden Arrows midfielder Thanduyise Khuboni, who has been relegated to the bench at the club, has also been given an opportunity to prove his value.
Igesund praised Mamelodi Sundowns and Orlando Pirates for their management of Mphela and McCarthy’s rehabilitation, particularly in terms of ensuring they didn’t return to action too early and risk an injury relapse.
The coach reiterated that the results of matches he was in charge of since he became coach were irrelevant, and that the squad would only start being moulded into a team once he worked regularly with the players in the training camps before and after the match against Norway in Cape Town on January 8.
“I haven’t had proper training sessions with the players, and the period from 27-30 December will give me an idea if players can perform a certain role in the team. It’s a tough challenge, which I’m going to enjoy.
“A lot of players have put their hands up to say they want to be in the squad. I can’t wait for January 2 when I’ll have the players together morning and afternoon for two weeks.
“It’s in the camp where we’ll see who can do what and who can’t. That’s when our preparations will start.
“The expectations are high, the mandate is high and it’s all in a short space of time, but if I didn’t believe I could do it then I wouldn’t have taken the job,” added an up-beat Igesund.
Besides whipping the national squad into a team, Igesund said he has roped in former Afcon winner, Neil Tovey, as well as former national team coach Ephraim Mashaba to help scout group rivals Morocco, Angola and Cape Verde.
Bafana Bafana squad for Malawi friendly
Goalkeepers: Itumeleng Khune, Wayne Sandilands, Senzo Meyiwa
Defenders: Bevan Fransman, Thabo Nthethe, Siyabonga Sangweni, Siyanda Xulu, Siboniso Gaxa, Tshepo Masilela, Thabo Matlaba
Midfielders: Oupa Manyisa, Reneilwe Letsholonyane, Siphiwe Tshabalala , Sifiso Myeni, Thanduyise Khuboni, May Mahlangu, Delron Buckley, Lerato Chabangu, Thuso Phala, Ayanda Patosi, Daine Klate
Strikers: Bernard Parker, Lehlohonolo Majoro, Tokelo Rantie
Additional players to join December 27-30 training camp in Johannesburg: Darren Keet, Eric Mathoho, Anele Ngcongca, Andile Jali, Teko Modise, Bongani Khumalo, Ricardo Nunes, Thulani Serero, Katlego Mphela, Benni McCarthy, Kagisho Dikgacoi, Dean Furman