Kermit Erasmus is looking forward to his return to the national team. Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

CAPE TOWN – Kermit Erasmus' response to being omitted from Bafana Bafana's final Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifier was simple; keep on working hard at training and playing well in matches.

When national team coach Stuart Baxter named his side for the crucial 2019 Afcon qualifier against Libya in March, it coincided with the red-hot run of goal-scoring form Erasmus had been enjoying for his PSL club, Cape Town City.

Many fans, as well as City coach Benni McCarthy, felt that the Port Elizabeth-born forward was unfortunate not to make the cut.

Erasmus though had only been back in South Africa for a couple of months at that stage, and had not played too regularly in Europe prior to that. Baxter felt he still needed more consistent game time.

Fast forward to May, and Baxter was convinced that the player now had sufficient match fitness under his belt to make the provisional 28-man Afcon tournament squad.

It came as a pleasant surprise to Erasmus, who found out the news at the same time as the rest of the country when the squad was publicly announced on Tuesday afternoon.

"I was just having lunch with a few friends and was following the squad announcement on Twitter, and I was obviously very happy to hear that I was named in the preliminary squad," he said.

"I always wanted to get back in the national team, it's been a while since I was last in the setup, around two years, so I'm really looking forward to it.

"I always understood that it is the coach's decision (when he was not called up in March)," he continued. "It did help motivate me to hear fans saying I deserved to be in the squad.

"From my side, I just kept doing what I love doing – playing football and working hard every day at training. Everything will come in due time if you keep focussed and put in the work."

The 28-year-old made his professional debut as a teenager in the 2007/ 08 season for SuperSport United. He was soon on the move to Europe, and made his debut for Dutch top-flight club Feyenoord in a UEFA Cup game, against French club Nancy in October 2008. Also on the park for Feyenoord that night that were Georginio Wijnaldum and Giovanni van Bronckhorst.

Erasmus also played for Excelsior in the Netherlands, before coming back to South Africa where he enjoyed successful spells with SuperSport and then Orlando Pirates. After that it was off for another spell in Europe; at Rennes (France), AFC Eskilstuna (Sweden) and Setubal (Portugal).

Then, when Cape Town City showed interest, Erasmus was once more enticed back to the PSL, in January this year. Working with McCarthy, one of Bafana Bafana's greatest ever strikers, seemed a perfect fit - which is indeed proving to be the case.

"When I came to play for City, my priority was just to get playing regularly again, and to be performing well," Erasmus explained.

"I've always believed that if you focus on the present, the future will unfold in the best way possible - you can only focus on what you can control.

"I work with coach Benni doing extra training after our sessions. It's been great for me, I looked up to him as a player when I was a youngster, he was my idol, playing the same position as me.

"I love working with him, both a coach and as a human being. I've thought that if I become a coach one day, I would like to be like him."

Erasmus had just finished up with a gym session when he conducted this interview and is clearly focussed on the next job at hand – making the cut for the final squad which will compete at the Afcon in Egypt in next month. And he believes that with the quality in the ranks, Bafana could cause a few surprises.

"The competition is good, it brings the best out of me and it can only be of benefit to the national team that there is strong competition for places. At the end of the day, football is a team sport and it's about doing your best to help the team.

"I'm looking forward to the camp now and showing what I can do and I believe in my ability to make a positive contribution.

"I think we have a fantastic group of players, and whoever represents the country at Afcon will do well.

"With the quality of football in Africa, of course, it will be a challenge for Bafana. But I think we will cause some surprises. It will help if hopefully the nation gets fully behind us and brings positive energy.

"Some countries will think South Africa will be easy to play against. We have smaller players, but we make use of our attributes – our agility, speed, moving the ball quickly, we know how to play to our strengths.

"It's not just about the name (of some of the continent's big stars). It's 90 minutes, and we're all humans after all. Yes, some players play in the big leagues, but it's not about names, it's about how much you as a team and a player want it on the day."

South Africa are in Group D, with the Ivory Coast, Morocco and neighbours Namibia. 

African News Agency (ANA)