JOHANNESBURG - Bafana Bafana midfielder Lehlogonolo Masalesa is disappointed that he will not be able to represent his country in the 2018 African Nations Championship (CHAN) qualifiers against Botswana due to not being attached to any local team.
CAF's rules for the CHAN qualifiers and tournament state that only players who play in their domestic league are eligible to feature. Bafana face Botswana in their first-leg CHAN qualifier in Francistown on Saturday.
“Like any other player, I would have loved to play for my country because it is quite an honour to be called up. I was really looking forward to continuing on the good work we had started in the COSAFA Cup,” said Masalesa.
“I am very disappointed that I am no longer part of the squad that is going to play against Botswana, but then again I understand because rules are rules.”
After head coach Stuart Baxter selected a squad of mainly young players for the COSAFA Cup, Masalesa was appointed the captain.
He played in all three matches – against Tanzania where we lost 1-0, and again led the team to a 2-0 win over Botswana before South Africa beat Namibia 1-0 in the Plate Final.
“After not being in the national team set-up for such a long time, it was a great honour to be called up again and to be handed the captain’s armband was just a cherry on top as I did not expect that,” added Masalesa
"I would like to take this opportunity to thank head coach Stuart Baxter and his technical team for the faith and belief they had in me. I just hope it was the beginning of good things to come. I will always cherish those special moments when I led the team onto the field.
“I would also like to take this opportunity to wish the guys well, and I know they can do it. Even though the team has changed slightly, we still have good players that can bring back a positive result. They will always have my support, they must just go and make themselves and the country proud.”
Masalesa attended his last training session with Bafana on Thursday morning before withdrawing from the team.
Sibusiso Khumalo from Mamelodi Sundowns took his place and is with the team in Botswana. Mario Booysen will captain the squad for the upcoming two matches.
“It’s an honour for me to captain the team, it’s just unlucky for Vieira (Masalesa) because we enjoyed his captaincy, but I will grab this opportunity with both hands, I will take the responsibility and lead the team. Even though it’s a big honour, it’s still not about me but about the team because we have come here for a result and that is our focus,” said Booysen.
“We have a few experienced players in the team and we are really looking forward to the game. The first clash was very physical but we just have to stick to our game plan and make sure we execute it perfectly, I have faith in the boys that we will be victorious.”