STRASBOURG – Lebo Mothiba daringly likened South Africa's training sessions to those of Barcelona, but the striker believes his battling style blended with the team's possession-based approach could deliver success at the Africa Cup of Nations.
South Africa, or Bafana Bafana, are back in the continent's flagship tournament after missing out in 2017, but face a difficult assignment in Egypt starting Monday having been drawn alongside 2015 champions Ivory Coast and a strong Morocco side coached by two-time Cup of Nations winner Herve Renard, as well as Namibia in Group D.
“It's going to be difficult but when you see the team play, the way it's able to keep the ball, it's like Spanish football. I'm really confident,” Mothiba, 23, told AFP.
“At training, we play like Barcelona,” the Strasbourg forward said, albeit acknowledging his style is somewhat less refined. “Me, I'm there to fight with the defenders.”
After arriving in France as a teenager in 2014 with Lille from the Johannesburg branch of the Diambars academy, Mothiba moved to Strasbourg last August, winning the League Cup in a debut season that saw him score nine times. He was also on target on the opening weekend for Lille before departing for Strasbourg on a four-year deal.
Since his international debut in March 2018, Mothiba has bagged four goals in seven outings and helped South Africa finish second in their qualifying group behind Nigeria, going through the campaign undefeated.
His fast international start has led him to being earmarked as someone who could break Benni McCarthy's long-standing record of 31 goals for South Africa.
“When I selected him for the first time I did not know whether to select him or adopt him,” South Africa coach Stuart Baxter told AFP during a trip to Strasbourg last December.
“He's a sociable person, always positive and in South Africa we do not have anyone of his profile. He is a natural striker and we hope he will have a long international career.”
“We have lots of fast and technical players. I'm there to fight with the defenders, keep the ball and bring my team-mates into play. I bring something new,” added Mothiba, who boasts a solid record of 15 goals scored in 49 Ligue 1 appearances, a number of them off the bench.
He racked up seven goals by November this season but slowed after the winter break.
“You mustn't forget he's only 23 and doesn't have loads of Ligue 1 experience. He scored less but he was a super-sub and created chances. He's a boy capable of scoring double-digit goals in a season,” said Strasbourg coach Thierry Laurey.
Mothiba could well move on from Strasbourg this summer if he excels in Egypt, with the player reportedly drawing interest from clubs in the English Premier League.
For now Mothiba, who played with South Africa's under-23 team at the Rio Olympics, is gearing up for his first major senior tournament with Bafana Bafana, winners of the Cup of Nations for the only time in 1996, on home soil and just days after Mothiba was born.
Agence France-Presse (AFP)