CAPE TOWN - There’s always a burst of anticipation and a renewed sense of expectation whenever a new man steps into the Bafana Bafana coaching hot seat. It’s no different this time as Stuart Baxter begins his second stint in charge of the South African national football team.
Baxter names his first Bafana squad on Thursday for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Nigeria, scheduled for Saturday, June 10, in Uyo, Nigeria. The other countries in the group are Libya and Seychelles.
The big question, of course, here in the shadow of Table Mountain, is whether Baxter has been closely following the players of the two Cape PSL clubs. Cape Town City have had a wonderful season and Ajax Cape Town have come good in recent weeks: Will we see any of their players in the squad?
If there are two footballers Baxter will unable to ignore, it’s City’s Lebogang Manyama and Aubrey Ngoma. The two players have been sensational all season. If it’s experience Baxter wants, they’ve got it. If it’s class and creativity Baxter wants, they’ve got it. If it’s the warrior spirit Baxter wants, they can give him that too.
While City goalkeeper Shu-aib Walters was in the last Bafana squad named by stand-in coach Owen da Gama, it will be interesting to see whether he’s in Baxter’s plans this time around. It’s a given that Baxter will pick Itumeleng Khune, and there is no doubt the new coach simply loves the two goalkeepers he works with at current club SuperSport United - Ronwen Williams and Reyaad Pieterse.
Another Cape footballer who has had a solid season is Ajax captain Travis Graham. But, chances are, he will probably have to wait a touch longer if he is to get a look-in at Bafana. Central midfield is currently one of the strongest areas in the PSL, and there are a few overseas-based candidates as well.
But, all in all, a Capetonian who is a very strong contender for Bafana inclusion on Thursday is versatile Orlando Pirates man, Abbubaker Mobara. In a struggling Pirates side, the former Ajax player has been a model of consistency, regular catching the eye with his industry and superb athleticism.
And, for an absolute bolter, what about City right-back Thamsanqa Mkhize? He probably won’t be picked, but he’s name Baxter would do well to consider - if not now, then later in the year. If a coach wants a warrior, utter commitment and unselfish dedication to the team, Mkhize’s the man. And, to boot, he’s a top-class defender, whose contribution to the Cape club’s magnificent season has been invaluable. Just track the exact moment when City’s title-run faltered, and you will discover that it coincided with the precise time when Mkhize was out injured. That’s how much he offers a team.