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Johannesburg - Bafana Bafana full back Thabo Matlaba would love to complete an incredible year, which has seen him become one of the country’s best defenders, by helping the national side reach at least the semi-finals of the African Cup of Nations on home soil later this month.
Matlaba, who joined Orlando Pirates 12 months ago and has since gone on to win the Premiership title with the Buccaneers and make his national team debut under new coach Gordon Igesund, is determined to win his spot at left back for Bafana’s Nations Cup opener against Cape Verde on January 19.
He will, however, need to fight for his spot ahead of the far more experienced Tsepo Masilela of Kaizer Chiefs, after having made the final squad announced by Igesund on Sunday.
Matlaba believes the stiff competition for places in the squad will help Bafana reach the semis and prove critics wrong.
“Everybody wants a place in the starting line-up. It’s a fight which is good for the team. When you have competition, it can only benefit the team. And we have to be at our best to reach semis.
“So I will work hard to get into the starting line-up. It would be great to start in the opening match (against Cape Verde).
“I would be delighted to stand there in the opening match, singing the national anthem. It’s going to be my first time playing in a big competition and I would love to get an opportunity to start the first match,” said Matlaba.
The squad will gather this morning in Johannesburg, and are due to fly out to Cape Town in the evening where they will start preparing for the international friendly against Norway on Tuesday.
Bafana will also play Algeria four days later - their last friendly match before embarking on their Nations Cup journey on January 19.
Winning these two international friendlies - according to Matlaba - will go a long way in helping Bafana achieve their goal of reaching the last four at the Nations Cup.
“We want to do well in these two matches so that we go into the Nations Cup on a high,” Matlaba said.
“There is a lot of pressure on us and we understand that. We have to play for the fans and prove doubters wrong. We can get to the semis and surprise everybody. We just need to make sure we do well in our matches before the tournament.”
Matlaba is determined to play abroad in the near future and hopes the Nations Cup will give him an opportunity to show scouts who may come out to look for talent what he is capable of.
He’s most certainly shown he has the potential, with his darting, overlapping runs down the left flank, and his strong defending at the back.
“I want to play abroad and achieve what the likes of Benni McCarthy and Steven Pienaar have achieved,” Matlaba said.
“You never know who is watching at these kinds of tournaments. I would like to play overseas, and in a big league, carrying my country’s flag like McCarthy and Pienaar have done. Hopefully I will get that chance.
“I worked hard throughout last year and listened to advice given to me.
“I’m happy with how things have gone (in the last 12 months) and I’ll continue to push and work hard,” he added.
Determined to make an even greater impact on SA football, Matlaba knows that making the final Nations Cup squad is not where it ends.
“It does not end here,” he said.
“It’s an opportunity to prove myself and cement my place in the Bafana side,” the Bucs sensation added. - Cape Times