Katlego Mphela has asked for some of his teammates to “come to the party” as Bafana Bafana go in search of goals in their upcoming 2014 Fifa World Cup qualifiers.
The Sundowns striker has been the only consistent goalscorer for the national team for some time now with 22 goals in 45 games, a decent record at international level.
Mphela netted two of a pathetic four goals that Bafana managed in their failed qualification for the 2012 African Nations Cup. And since then the striking situation has arguably got worse, with Bafana scoring twice in four friendlies, Mphela getting one against the Ivory Coast last November.
“I think it’s always been the case that the national team rely too much on their strikers,” said Mphela on Tuesday, ahead of Sunday’s opening World Cup qualifier against Ethiopia (Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace, kick-off 3pm). “Some of the (other) players need to come to the party and score. When we defend as a team they need the strikers to defend from the top, and to win games you need more players to score goals as well.”
Mphela’s own form has been a concern in 2012, with the 27-year-old netting just once for his club, Mamelodi Sundowns, this year. There are growing concerns that Mphela is not properly fit, and he has not started a game for the Brazilians since April. “I am feeling ok,” said Mphela, however. “We have done a couple of hectic (training) sessions and I think come Saturday I will be ready. I think I can start, it depends on the coach and how he is going to play. But I feel ready.”
Away from the need for goals to come from all facets of the Bafana side, the striking department does have a healthier look about it in Phokeng this week. Veteran Siyabonga Nomvethe is back in the Bafana squad on the back of 20 goals in the Absa Premiership this season, and Santos’ Eleazar Rodgers is also here, after finishing second in the scoring charts with 13.
“It’s always nice to have competitive guys who score goals like Nomvethe and Rogers,” said Mphela. “…It’s good for the national team to have the league’s top scorers.”
Ethiopia are not, on paper at least, the trickiest opposition for Bafana’s opening game. They have never qualified for the Fifa World Cup, and have not made it to a Nations Cup finals since 1982.
Mphela, however, expects to find “stubborn” opponents in Phokeng. “I think they (Ethiopia) are dangerous. For them to be where they are now, participating in the group stages, they did well. They are stubborn at the back and we mustn’t underestimate them. We must move the ball very quickly to open up space for ourselves,” said the Bafana striker.
Mphela is familiar with one of Ethiopia’s strikers, Tefera Fikru, having played with him in his time at SuperSport United. “I think most of the Ethiopian guys are very fit,” he said. “I played with Fikru and he used to run the whole day. He’s a fighter. He doesn’t score many goals, but he will give our defence a hard run.”
Mphela, however, is frank in his assessment of what Bafana need from the two upcoming games, against Ethiopia, and against Botswana on June 9.
“Because of past results and the pressure on us, six points are non-negotiable,” he says.
With regard to their defence, Bafana were dealt a blow on Tuesday as Siyabonga Sangweni hobbled out of the morning training session with an ankle injury. Sangweni was set for an MRI scan and Bongani Khumalo is likely to take his place alongside Morgan Gould in the heart of the Bafana defence, if Sangweni does not recover. Khumalo has had no first team action with Tottenham Hotspur in 2012, but was in the Bafana side that played out a goalless draw with Senegal in February. – The Star