Photo: Sydney Mahlangu /BackpagePix

It’s proving to be quite a year for Thulani ‘Tyson’ Hlatshwayo, who has just been named as the new Bafana Bafana captain, just weeks after leading Bidvest Wits to a first-ever league title.

A model professional, the tough and tenacious Soweto-born former Ajax Cape Town youth team product answered the call by Bidvest Wits coach Gavin Hunt last season by leading the Clever Boys to league glory, and as such, he seems to have proven a natural choice for newly-appointed national team coach Stuart Baxter.

Speaking ahead of the upcoming 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier away in Nigeria this coming Saturday, Baxter said Hlatshwayo’s personality traits, together with an impressive CV, made him an obvious choice to help carry out his vision for the team on the field. And the 27-year-old is likely to keep the armband for the foreseeable future.

“The captain will be Tyson. I see him as a good captain, that’s why I picked him. He has all the qualities. Tyson has experience at national level and in Africa. He always leads by example and is captain material. The captain’s armband should be valued. So I won’t be switching it up all the time. There won’t be a rotating of captains in Bafana,” the Englishman explained.

Still having to balance his Bafana duties with club commitments at SuperSport United, Baxter has not had the time yet to officially appoint a technical team on a permanent basis, but says that for the upcoming Nigeria fixture, his assistants will comprise of Thabo Senong and Molefi Ntseki and Alex Heredia (goalkeeper coach). 

Heredia has worked for the senior national team before, as well as at clubs such as Orlando Pirates‚ Mamelodi Sundowns and SuperSport. Senong is the current South African Under-20 coach, while Ntseki in charge of the national Under-17’s.

Baxter admitted that the short preparation time for the Super Eagles showdown is not ideal. But he is confident that he has chosen a group of players he can trust to sweat blood for the Bafana cause.

“The problem for me is I have very few training sessions before we take on Nigeria. Coaches don’t live in a perfect world. If you don’t adapt you won’t survive.

“We respect the Nigerians. They’re on a long run of unbeaten games, but we’re not there to make up the numbers. Nigeria have certain strengths and we need to try negate those strengths and hurt them.

“I can promise you that whoever steps out there on match day will play hard and do South Africa proud,” he declared.

Adding though to Baxter’s growing list of challenges in his second stint in charge of Bafana Bafana, is a lengthy list of players with niggling injuries that they have been carrying through the last few months of the domestic season.

Included are Erick Mathoho, Andile Jali, Tokelo Rantie, Aubrey Ngoma, Rivaldo Coetzee and Lebogang Manyama. Tiyani Mabunda, roped in for injured Sundowns club-mate Hlompho Kekana, is only just making his way back from an ankle injury.

Saturday marks South Africa’s opening match of their Group E AFCON qualifying campaign. The other countries in the group are Libya and the Seychelles. The group winner automatically qualifies for the tournament in the Cameroon in 2019, with only three of the best-placed runners-up from the 12 groups also going through.

In 12 previous encounters against Nigeria, South Africa have only won once (in 2005), while they have lost seven times, with four draws.

Bafana squad:

Goalkeepers: Itumeleng Khune, Ronwen Williams, Darren Keet.

Defenders: Ramahlwe Mphahlele, Rivaldo Coetzee, Thulani Hlatshwayo, Eric Mathoho, Lorenzo Gordinho, Abbubaker Mobara, Tebogo Langerman, Sifiso Hlanti.

Midfielders: Tiyani Mabunda, Keagan Dolly, Andile Jali, Kamohelo Mokotjo, Dean Furman, Themba Zwane, Bongani Zungu, Aubrey Ngoma.

Strikers: Sibusiso Vilakazi, Percy Tau, Lebogang Manyama, Tokelo Rantie, Thamsanqa Gabuza, Kermit Erasmus.