As if facing Brazil on their own turf was not a difficult enough inauguration for Gordon Igesund, the Bafana coach was on Sunday left without his captain and a leading striker for the trip to Sao Paulo.
Moroka Swallows frontman Siyabonga Nomvethe was officially ruled out of the 25-man squad that leaves for Brazil on Monday morning, after a scan confirmed he had torn ligaments in his big toe against Orlando Pirates on Saturday.
Captain Steven Pienaar’s omission was more surprising, the midfield star having played 90 minutes for Everton against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday afternoon.
“The report from Everton came back that he’s pulled a muscle in his thigh, and he’ll only be back in the next 10 to 15 days,” said Bafana coach Gordon Igesund on Sunday.
Nomvethe, who did so well last season under Igesund at Swallows, was expected to lead the line for Bafana against Brazil in the absence of the injured Katlego Mphela, while in Pienaar, Igesund has clearly lost his best midfielder.
“It’s a big blow, obviously with Pienaar as well… that’s unfortunate, but that is how things are.”
Still, when one door closes another one opens, and opportunity now knocks for Orlando Pirates’ Benni McCarthy, and SuperSport United’s George Maluleka, called up as replacements.
Maluleka has been in scintillating form on his return to SuperSport United this season, while McCarthy sneaks into the squad by virtue of the fact that Nomvethe’s initial replacement, Sundowns’ Edward Manqele, pulled a hamstring on Sunday afternoon.
Bafana Bafana’s leading international goalscorer, now 34, thus gets an unexpected opportunity to show he still has what it takes on the global stage.
As for who will captain the side against Brazil on Friday and Mozambique on September 11, Siphiwe Tshabalala is the clear favourite, though Igesund said: “I’ll make that decision when I’m in Brazil.”
Brazil, meanwhile, will also be missing their captain against South Africa, with Thiago Silva ruled out of the game, also with a thigh problem.
The five-time world champions, however, have an alarming artillery of talent to choose from as they take on Bafana as part of their Independence Day celebrations at the Estadio Morumbi on Friday (kick-off 8.45pm SA time).
The game also represents a symbolic handover of the World Cup 2010 in South Africa to the World Cup 2014 in Brazil.
Igesund will do well to figure out how to contain and even take down a side containing talent like Hulk, Ramires, and Neymar, a baptism of fire for both the coach and his relatively inexperienced squad.
Bafana’s new coach certainly surprised with some of the names in his squad this week, none more so than 18-year-old left-back Kgosi Ntlhe.
Ntlhe, who plays for Peterborough in the English Championship, seemed equally stunned when he heard the news of his inclusion.
“When the manager told me before training, I actually thought it was banter. I couldn’t believe it and it still hasn’t really sunk in,” Nthle told the Peterborough Telegraph.
“I am always proud to represent my country so to be called up to the senior squad is a dream. I haven’t told my family yet, but I know when I do there will be a lot of shouting down the phone!
“It really is incredible.”