JOHANNESBURG – Here are Thamsanqa Gabuza’s numbers from the season that has just ended: four goals in 26 matches for Orlando Pirates.
Appalling for a striker, we can agree on that. But it appears putting the ball in the back of the net isn’t the only criteria for selecting the burly forward in any squad, especially Bafana Bafana.
It wasn’t much of a surprise to see Gabuza’s name among the 25 players travelling to Nigeria later this afternoon for South Africa’s opening 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifier against the Super Eagles in Uyo on Saturday.
But those who would have been well aware of his overall performance this season in a lacklustre Pirates side would have wondered how on earth Gabuza was picked by Bafana coach Stuart Baxter.
We should just accept the fact he probably is the best in the business – in that target man role. The sooner we all wrap our heads around that the better. Gabuza, for as long as he looks promising on the ball and squeezes in a few goals here and there, is almost an automatic choice as an alternative striker for the national team. There are just too many runners.
Tokelo Rantie- who looks a doubt for the Nigeria game as he is still being treated for a swollen toe and a troublesome right knee – and Kermit Erasmus, are very much similar in their style of play. But it doesn’t have to take someone with the highest coaching qualifications in the land to know that when going on an away trip to Nigeria, you need a few options upfront. By the way, it is also fair to remind fans that Gabuza has proved that he is made for the international stage, even when his club form is questionable.
When Bafana were embarrassed 3-1 by lowly Mauritania in a 2017 Afcon qualifier two years ago, Gabuza was on hand to grab the equaliser before the South African defence capitulated. A few months after that, Bafana, under then-coach Shakes Mashaba, began their road to next year’s World Cup in Russia by playing Angola away. Gabuza was on the scoresheet in a comfortable 3-1 victory. The trip to The Gambia a year later was a dead rubber with Bafana, having already failed to qualify for the Afcon, but the Pirates marksman scored twice in what was recorded as the national team’s biggest away win as they hammered the hosts 4-0.
He was left out of the World Cup qualifier against Senegal in November last year because his form had dipped. There were options then, or so Mashaba thought, in Eleazer Rogers, Bradley Grobler and a bizarre choice in Lars Veldwijk, who appeared to have been forced on Mashaba as an overseas-based player, though he really isn’t good enough.
Rodgers fell down the pecking order at his club Bidvest Wits, Grobler had to have an operation on his groin and was subsequently out of action for six months. The less said about Veldwijk the better. In searching for a striker with the right height, satisfactory scoring ratio on the international stage and a target man – only Gabuza ticked the boxes.
He was coming good for Pirates in the final weeks of an otherwise awful season, and after having a word with his club coach Kjell Jonevret, Baxter was convinced the player should make the trip to Uyo.
It’s time we accepted it: Gabuza is Bafana material.
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