Durban – Bafana Bafana coach Gordon Igesund cut a casual figure in jeans and a leather jacket for Tuesday’s squad announcement, ahead of next week’s final World Cup group qualifier against Botswana in Durban, but there was nothing laid-back about his selections.
There were recalls for former national team captain Bongani Khumalo and fellow England-based professional Kagisho Dikgacoi, as well as defender Siyanda Xulu, who plays in Russia, for this do-or-die southern African derby against the Zebras next Saturday.
Had fellow overseas-based stars such as May Mahlangu (Sweden), Dino Ndlovu (Israel) and Ayanda Patosi (Belgium) been fit and in form, they too might have been in the reckoning, suggested Igesund at the squad announcement in Durban.
Victory for South Africa at the Moses Mabhida Stadium next Saturday afternoon is imperative if they hope to reach the final round of qualification for next year’s World Cup in Brazil.
Bafana Bafana trail group leaders Ethiopia by two points, while Botswana and the Central African Republic are third and fourth respectively.
South Africa must beat Botswana and pray that Ethiopia lose or draw against the Central African Republic in the other clash, which kicks off at the same time (3pm).
“These are exciting times. We were given an opportunity where Ethiopia dropped points and opened the door (for qualification). I think I have selected one of the strongest teams for a long time,” said Igesund.
“Previously we used a few young players, and we’re happy with their progress so far, but this game is not for trying things. We stretched our wings far and have gone for the strongest squad possible.”
Khumalo returns after he made his last appearance during the Africa Cup of Nations in February, while Igesund also roped in attacking midfielder Thulani Serero, who has recovered from injury, as well as uncapped midfielder Kamohelo Mokotjo of Dutch outfit PEC Zwolle.
“I’ve selected players who are in top form at the moment. I had a 45-minute chat with Serero’s coach, and (coach Paul) Dickov is raving about Khumalo’s performances.
“We’ve watched quite a few DVDs of Mokotjo. He did not have much game time when he was at Feyenoord. Players have got to play regularly, and I’m happy he’s moved to a club where he’s getting game time.
“In the last few weeks he’s been outstanding.
“He’s got two goals in two games, he’s going forward, and he’s a really good talent who deserves this call-up,” the coach added.
Unlike the last time Bafana Bafana played in Durban, when Nigeria beat them 2-0 earlier this month, Igesund doesn’t expect any surprise player withdrawals.