Johannesburg – As Itumeleng Khune finished his training session at Kaizer Chiefs on Thursday morning, he was still unaware that he was the new Bafana Bafana captain.
“I wasn’t even off the pitch, and Bobby (Motaung) came up to me, and said: ‘I am so proud of you’,” said Khune on Thursday
“I said ‘for what?’”
“Everyone came up to me and congratulated me. I was surprised and shocked.”
There was no little surprise at Safa House on Thursday too, as Gordon Igesund showed a ruthless streak in axing his 2013 Africa Cup of Nations captain Bongani Khumalo from his squad to face the Central African Republic in a World Cup qualifier on March 23 in Cape Town (kick off 8.15pm).
There had been speculation that Khumalo might lose the captaincy, but no one expected him to lose his place entirely.
“Bongani Khumalo, I am sure everyone is aware, since he has been back from the Nations Cup, he hasn’t participated for his club (PAOK Salonika),” said Igesund.
“He only played his first game last week, and a player has to be in form.”
Khune certainly fits into that category.
The Kaizer Chiefs skipper has been in fantastic nick for club and country for some time now, and, as well as his leadership skills, his regular place in the Bafana line-up made him a natural choice as a replacement captain.
This is actually the second time that Khune will lead Bafana, having also captained them in a friendly against Malawi last December. But this is a World Cup qualifier, a far grander stage for the 25 year old to sport the armband.
“Yes, this one is bigger,” said Khune on Thursday. “Who wouldn’t want to captain his nation in the World Cup qualifiers?
“I will do my best with the responsibility I have been given. I am humbled and grateful for the opportunity.”
Khune thanked everyone from his club, to his teammates and coaches, to his supporters, for their role in his route to the Bafana captaincy. Top praise, however, was reserved for his goalkeeper-coach at Chiefs, Rainer Dinkelacker.
“He said if I worked hard I would get the prizes, and this is the surprise reward of captaining the national team,” said Khune, who had nothing but praise for Khumalo.
“I don’t know the reason why he is not in the squad but we will miss him,” said Khune.
“He is a great leader, he led the team at the Afcon and we did well under him.”
Khune has not been immune to criticism in his time in the Bafana goal, particularly for time-wasting.
He was hammered for his antics against Sierra Leone in Nelspruit, as Bafana failed to qualify for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations under Pitso Mosimane
“I have grown from that, I have played so many games after that and you can see the difference,” argued Khune.
“I know people criticised me, but these things happen in football. You learn from your mistakes.”
The Chiefs goalkeeper also launched what seemed a staunch defence of time-wasting tactics.
“If you watch other goalkeepers in other countries, you know how they waste time. I am surprised people don’t pick up what other players do,” he said.
“Other teams do it to us when we play away. In football you don’t have to be nice ... you have to be ruthless at times.”
That word “ruthless” again, and Igesund was at it further as he also dropped Ajax Amsterdam midfielder Thulani Serero for the CAR game, claiming that he needs to get regular game time and “mentally get stronger”.
Serero did not have a particularly good Nations Cup, struggling with form and fitness.
“Serero has to do a little bit more,” said Igesund. “He has come back from a very difficult injury and when he has been in camp, he has been a bit afraid of getting injured again.
“We need him to be a bit mentally stronger. He needs to get sorted out with his club, at the moment he is only playing a couple of minutes here and there.
“He needs to get more confidence, get over his injury and give us 100 percent.”
Bafana, meanwhile, are trying to finalise a friendly in Mauritius for March 26 or 27.
“It is very important to play as many friendlies as possible,” said Igesund. “They (Mauritius) requested it.
“They are opening a new stadium and they wanted us to be there.” – The Star
Goalkeepers: Itumeleng Khune, Wayne Sandilands, Senzo Meyiwa
Defenders: Morgan Gould, Siyabonga Sangweni, Thabo Nthethe, Anele Ngcongca, Siyanda Xulu, Tsepo Masilela, Thabo Matlaba
Midfielders: Kagisho Dikgacoi, Dean Furman, Reneilwe Letsholonyane, Oupa Manyisa, May Mahlangu, Daylon Claasen, Lerato Chabangu, Thuso Phala, Siphiwe Tshabalala, Daine Klate
Strikers: Bernard Parker, Dino Ndlovu, Tokelo Rantie