JOHANNESBURG – With all the pressure Bafana Bafana are under just days before their do-or-die 2018 World Cup qualifier against Burkina Faso at FNB Stadium on Saturday (3pm kickoff), there’s at least one player who isn’t too burdened.
Lebogang Mothiba, the 21-year-old striker who is on loan from Lille to Valenciennes in the French second division – and scored a hat-trick for his club a day prior to getting on a flight to South Africa – described his first ever inclusion in the senior men’s national team as part learning curve, and also an opportunity to make an impact if given a chance.
“For me, getting this call-up is an achievement,” Mothiba said yesterday.
Like the taxi sticker that reads: ‘Don’t rush me if you are late, I am on time’, for Mothiba the timing is right, although he joins a camp that has suffered immense criticism following back-to-back defeats against Cape Verde away in Praia and then at home in Durban last month.
As a result, Bafana have it all to do in their efforts to get to the World Cup in Russia, and have already been written off, considering coach Stuart Baxter’s men are bottom of Group D with a single point from three matches, with three more remaining.
Mothiba is not oblivious to all the background noise, but his form in France means you can hardly put him down, especially now that he is in national team colours.
“It’s always good to score goals as a striker. It was a special day (his first hat-trick in his professional career) because the following day, I had to take a flight and come here. It was good, really good,” Mothiba said.
Can he take that form into a Bafana team that desperately need it?
“I think it is important to focus on training and then see from there. All the players here are good players, great players. I have looked up to some of them growing up, and now I get to play with them.
“I am still young and still learning from them,” said Mothiba, who is maturing as a footballer.
He was perhaps briefly introduced to the South African public when he made the cut for the Under-23 squad that represented the country at the Olympic Games in Rio just over a year ago, under then-Bafana assistant coach Owen da Gama.
“When you come to the national team, you know you can play,” added Mothiba. “You must always believe in yourself and trust in your ability, tell yourself you can do it and also show people what you can do.
“We need to focus on the game against Burkina Faso and leave what happened in the past.”
The scars of potentially missing out on the World Cup yet again will take some time to heal, but Mothiba is maybe part of a generation that can lead the line in future, with those who are more used to the demands of playing for Bafana – like midfielder Percy Tau and striker Bradley Grobler – set to get the nod ahead of him on Saturday.