Cape Town – Having made his second successive start for Bafana Bafana in the African Nations Championship (Chan), Ajax Cape Town defender Thato Mokeke says he has made a smooth transition into the national set-up, thanks to the guidance of the squad’s senior players.
“The guys have been here for long, so they know what international level is like, so it made it much easier,” Mokeke said after the game against Mali at the Cape Town Stadium.
“Guys like Thabo Nthethe, Itumeleng Khune and Bernard Parker told me that I shouldn’t panic, I should just play what I know best and other things will fall into place.”
Mokeke was a late inclusion in Gordon Igesund's squad for Chan, after Kaizer Chiefs’ Tsepo Masilela was forced to pull out of the tournament due to injury.
He was a surprise choice against Mozambique in South Africa’s first game of the tournament, and went on to earn his second cap four days later, when Bafana were held to a 1-1 draw by Mali on Wednesday.
“It’s something new for me. I’m learning from it, but the best way is for me to try and make an impression so that I could be called-up in future again.”
The 23-year-old is the only Cape Town-based member of the squad and Mokeke admitted it came as a surprise when he received the call from Igesund, particularly as he had fallen out of favour with Ajax coach Muhsin Ertugral in recent weeks and had struggled to make the club’s starting line-up.
“It was a shock for me. I didn’t expect it because I hadn’t been playing for a while,” Mokeke said.
“I’d like to be called-up more regularly, just to set a good impression for the coach.”
Bafana forfeited a 1-0 half-time lead, allowing Mali to equalise 10 minutes after the interval as the teams were made to share the points, which kept South Africa at the top of the group on goal difference.
The host nation would, however, need at least a draw against Nigeria in their final group A clash on Sunday to progress to the next round.
“This game was much tougher than the previous one. It was more physical and the intensity was very high, much better than (against Mozambique),” Mokeke said of his second game.
“There is a lot of pressure because we were expecting to qualify, but we didn’t.
“So in the last game we have to at least get a win, if not a win, at least a draw so that we can qualify.”
Meanwhile, fellow newcomer to the side Lindokuhle Mbatha – who made his first start for South Africa after coming on as a replacement against Mozambique – was far more direct in his assessment of the game.
“It wasn’t a true reflection of the game. We were supposed to win it but we missed one or two chances,” the Platinum Stars winger said. – Sapa