JOHANNESBURG – Aware of Bafana Bafana’s return to the Africa Cup of Nations without first choice goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune, coach Stuart Baxter concedes that it will be a close call between Ronwen Williams and Darren Keet for the No 1 spot.
During Bafana’s Afcon qualifiers, Khune played four matches, conceding one goal in the penultimate round against Nigeria, before suffering a long-term injury.
Enter Keet for the final qualifier against Libya in March, and the want-away Bidvest Wits shot-stopper delivered a polished performance as Bafana won 2-1 in the neutral venue in Sfax, Tunisia. South Africa finished second behind Nigeria in Group E to qualify for their first continental showpiece since 2015.
“Ronwen and Darren’s (selection) is so close that it usually comes down to opponents, how they train and practice games, and it will be the same,” Baxter said.
“Darren has shown a very strong mentality and he’s a stubborn professional that doesn’t want to give away his place. That’s usually a good fight when we are in camp.”
Looking at recent developments, the odds tip Williams to have an upper hand ahead of the tournament starting in Egypt on June 21.
Keet endured a torrid spell later in the season with Wits and was dropped due to his delaying contractual negotiations, only returning to action in the last two games of the season after missing at least four.
On the other hand, Williams was crowned Premiership Goalkeeper of the Season last weekend following his heroics for SuperSport United.
The 27-year-old played all 37 matches for SuperSport, keeping 14 clean sheets and inspiring the team to sixth place in the final PSL standings as well as the MTN8 final.
However, Williams’ international career has had more lows than highs, the five goals he conceded against Brazil in 2014 having left a bitter memory for Bafana supporters.
But Baxter has put his head on the block to back Williams to do the nation proud in Egypt.
“He’s such a talented goalkeeper but sometimes he feels like he has a baggage that he can’t put down,” the English coach said. “But I think he needs to believe in himself more because he’s a very talented goalkeeper. But I think the award will help him to put down that baggage.”
Following his surprise inclusion in Bafana’s last squad for the qualifiers, Kaizer Chiefs keeper Bruce Bvuma is set to continue playing third fiddle to Williams and Keet. Bvuma was named in Bafana’s 30-man provisional Afcon squad by Baxter at Safa House this week.
He will have to be on his toes during the preparations on home soil from June 2-11, as Reyaad Pieterse has been included in the Bafana squad for the Cosafa Cup in Durban starting on Saturday.
Pieterse’s inclusion is to put pressure on the leading trio and to be on standby for any setbacks before the final squad announcement on June 10.@Mihlalibaleka