Lebogang Phiri Photo: Sydney Mahlangu /BackpagePix
JOHANNESBURG - Lebogang Phiri is eager to take on Nigeria's Super Eagles in the opening round of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers at Godswill Akpabio stadium in Uyo, Nigeria, on Saturday.

Phiri recently left his Danish club Brondby, to sign for EA Guingamp - who finished 10th in Ligue 1 this past season - in France.

He was also inspired by his call-up for the Bafana Bafana squad to replace the injured Netherlands-based Kamohelo Mokotjo in the 25-man squad.

In an interview with Safa, he was upbeat about Bafana’s chances.

He said: “I am confident, especially about all the players who have been picked.

"We have been doing very well as a team, we have a new technical staff with different players as well, we just need to find common goal as to what we want to achieve and if we have the same goal we stand a very good chance to succeed.

“Of course, they are a tough opposition, especially in Nigeria, but with the confidence the players have in this squad, and the experience that we have, we should use every opportunity that we have going into the game and express ourselves - and that’s the most important thing to do.

“It’s going to be a very tough game and tough travel as well, but it’s all mental and if we get that one right then everybody will be prepared to play the game and bring out the best performance ever.”

When reminded of Nigeria’s imposing record against other African teams, particularly against Bafana, he was not intimidated: “I always say football is the same and right now it’s different players, different eras - we just need to stay focused on the ultimate goal, which is qualification.

“We need not take it as an event but take it as a normal game with the pressures and responsibilities that it will come with.

"We have to work hard to ensure we get these qualification off to a perfect start.

“They have big guns in Ahmed Musa, Victor Moses and all these good players who are solid, but we also have great players, therefore, we have to work as a team because victory will not just pitch up, we have to work for it, regardless of who is on the pitch.”

It is clear that the young midfielder has been emboldened by his cosmopolitan experience in Europe, but his patriotism remains clear. “We have to fight for our country, the badge and come out tops. We have to show passion and if we don’t make it with all three points, let’s hold our heads high, for we would have given a great performance.”

Having come from Alexandra, his success abroad and now playing for Bafana, are both dreams he had as a child. He made his national team debut against Lesotho in the Cosafa Cup, in Windhoek, Namibia in June last year.

He added: “It’s always an honour getting a call up from the national team and every player wants to represent their country at the highest level, and this is it.

"I will be playing amongst great players, from local and abroad, it’s a good platform for me to showcase what I have as a player.”

Phiri played for Wits Juniors before leaving for Europe, at the age of 18, so not many local fans would have seen him play.

He said: “I spent most of my time playing for Brondby in Denmark and now I have just got a contract in France. I am only 22-years-old.

"I didn’t spend a long time playing football in South Africa, so people don’t really know much about me.

“I am a midfielder, hard-working and dedicated to my craft. I am pushed by my family, where the biggest motivation comes from for me, nothing else and that’s what got me this far.”

Asked who his inspirations were in football, he referred to the Cape Town City and Bafana midfielder, Lebogang Manyama, 26, also from Alexandra.

Phiri observed: “He has been doing very well this season and he has pushed me to a certain level. Once upon a time I used to live in a shell but now I see that coming from a small township in South Africa doesn’t mean that you can’t make the greatest of careers.

“He has had a superb season and it’s great to acknowledge that we have such a powerhouse like him that hails from Alexandra.”

Regarding aspiring local talent, the grounded young man imparted some wisdom.

“In life, nothing comes easy. It’s a very difficult path to travel. I come from humble beginnings, my family is my drive," he said

“We didn’t have the best of lives (as children) but I always had that dream, always had the passion, always had goals I had set out for myself. The most important goal I set myself was that I want to work for my family, and I made sure I worked hard for it.

“I made sure that before I am okay, my family was okay first, taking them out of poverty and making sure we were a strong family with a strong base and that gave me blessings.

“I also stayed tuned to who I am as a human being, I didn't get lost in the crowd. There are a lot of things that distract us as human beings but if you have a path set out for yourself, those distractions may come and you may lose track but if you are focused enough you will always come back to the right path.”

ANA