Johannesburg – In a move as predictable as an ANN7 blooper, Bongani Khumalo was recalled on Tuesday to the Bafana Bafana squad. The return of Gordon Igesund’s penchant for his former captain became clear on August 17, after Bafana’s Madiba-inspired friendly against Burkina Faso.
In the post-match press conference, Igesund gave a particular nod towards Khumalo’s recent performances at Doncaster Rovers, giving every indication he would be back. And so it has proved, the much-maligned 26-year-old in the mix again for the September 7 World Cup qualifier against Botswana.
Igesund’s treatment of Khumalo since he became Bafana coach has been tempestuous. Khumalo was named as Igesund’s captain for his first match, the friendly against Brazil last September.
And when it became clear that Steven Pienaar had hung up his international boots, Khumalo became Igesund’s permanent choice to lead the side.
After a slightly shaky 2013 African Nations Cup, however, Igesund dumped his captain from the squad, citing a lack of game-time at club level. My sense has always been that this was an over-reaction. Khumalo was singled out unfairly in the wake of the Nations Cup, and deserved better than to be dropped completely. He is not the best defender in the world, by any stretch of the imagination, but to my mind, on form, he is the best central defender in South Africa.
Fair play to Igesund, now that Khumalo is playing regularly again and back in the squad, but there was no need to leave him out in the first place.
Khumalo’s return is harsh on Eric Mathoho, though, who would appear to be Igesund’s fall-guy from the Nelson Mandela Challenge against Nigeria, dropped into the second-tier squad to face Zimbabwe on September 10.
Igesund’s central defensive partnership for the game against Botswana now seems likely to be Thabo Nthethe and Khumalo, with Siyanda Xulu and Buhle Mkhwanazi his back- up options.
The most exciting call-up of this Bafana squad, meanwhile, to my mind, is 22-year-old Kamohelo Mokotjo who has had a fantastic start to the season in Holland with his new club, PEC Zwolle, after a frustrating time at Dutch giants Feyenoord.
Mokotjo was actually called up to Igesund’s first Bafana squad, but made only one substitute appearance, against Mozambique, before disappearing off the radar again. It will be interesting to see if the midfielder gets more of a chance in the Botswana game, with Igesund having recalled Andile Jali, and with Dean Furman, Kagiso Dikgacoi, Oupa Manyisa and Reneilwe Letsholonyane also in the squad.