Johannesburg – Gordon Igesund has opened the door for Bongani Khumalo to make a return to the Bafana Bafana squad for next month’s Fifa World Cup 2014 qualifier against Botswana.
Khumalo has not been part of the Bafana set up since captaining the side at the 2013 African Nations Cup finals, Igesund citing a lack of game-time at club level as the main reason for his omission.
But the 26-year-old is currently enjoying a new lease of life on-loan at Doncaster Rovers in the English Championship. Khumalo netted a late winner for his side in the Carling Cup against Rochdale on Wednesday last week, and played the full 90 minutes on Friday night, as Doncaster enjoyed a 2-0 league win over Blackburn Rovers.
Bafana have to beat Botswana on September 7 to stand any chance of making it to the World Cup 2014 play-offs – but they will still only get there if Ethiopia fail to win against the Central African Republic in the Congo.
Igesund’s men played their final friendly ahead of the more serious business of Botswana on Saturday afternoon – a makeshift side beating an even more makeshift Burkina Faso 2-0 as part of the Nelson Mandela Sport and Culture Day at FNB Stadium.
With the game not falling on a Fifa date, not one overseas-based player took the field for either side, though it was the Burkinabe who were the more seriously weakened – none of Saturday’s players were part of the squad that reached the final of the 2013 African Nations Cup.
Igesund will have a full strength squad, of course, for the Botswana game, and in mentioning his overseas contingent in the wake of the win over the Stallions, Khumalo’s name did come up.
The Bafana coach only had Doncaster’s Dean Furman and Malmo’s Tokelo Rantie with him of his overseas contingent for the 2-0 Nelson Mandela challenge defeat to Nigeria in midweek, but it seems likely that plenty more could return for Botswana.
“Thulani Serero is playing again, Ayanda Patosi is back in action, there is KG (Kagiso Dikgacoi) and even Bongani Khumalo is playing regularly,” said Igesund.
“I spoke to his coach (Paul Dickov) and he said he has been outstanding at the moment.”
“There is a lot of talent in this country and a lot of talent overseas. I know the importance of the game against Botswana and I will select a team that will go and win the game against Botswana.”
Serero is another player to not have featured in Igesund’s Bafana since the Nations Cup, and his call-up could also depend on his getting playing time in the coming weeks with Ajax Amsterdam.
The game against Burkina Faso was a chance for Igesund to get a look at some of his fringe players, although he did also field his Kaizer Chiefs stalwarts – Itumeleng Khune, Siphiwe Tshabalala, Reneilwe Letsholonyane and Bernard Parker.
Bafana were way too good for the Stallions, and debutant Bongani Zungu impressed in particular, while Luyolo Nomandela got his first goal in a Bafana shirt. The one real disappointment was that Bafana did not thrash their opponents, given the amount of chances they created.
Nomandela added some gloss in stoppage time to Tshabalala’s well-taken first half strike.
“We were able to put fringe players in, without fear, and we have a good idea of where we are with certain players, leading to the Botswana game,” said Igesund.
“It was a good confidence booster, we created a lot of chances, and scored two. The most important thing is that we are creating (opportunities).
“Today we passed the ball and kept it better and used it better (than against Nigeria). In a short space of time the players have been fantastic, there is a lot of work to do, but we have had two games against top opposition and I am pleased with that.”
Whether Saturday’s Burkinabe was “top opposition” is highly debatable, but Igesund was having none of it.
“Both teams were local-based, don’t take anything away from our performance, we dominated for the 90 minutes and passed the ball well,” he said.
“We also had locally-based players, there was no difference.”