CAPE TOWN - One man’s misfortune is another’s opportunity, which is why Cape Town City right-back Thami Mkhize is hoping to make the most of his belated call-up to the Bafana Bafana squad to tackle Seychelles in a 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifier at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg on Saturday afternoon (3pm).
The opportunity may be via the back door, but it is certainly well deserved and overdue. With an injury to Mamelodi Sundowns’ Thapelo Morena, Bafana head coach Stuart Baxter this week drafted Mkhize in as a late replacement. Mkhize has two previous appearances for Bafana, but he has recently been ignored by Baxter.
Despite the City defender being among the most consistent performers, the Bafana coach has always preferred Kaizer Chiefs’ Ramahlwe Mphahlele on the right side of the national side’s defence. In Bafana’s previous match - a 0-0 draw with Libya - Mphahlele’s performance didn’t inspire too much confidence.
There had been suggestions that Baxter would look more closely at Mkhize for the clash with Seychelles - but, when the team was announced, the City man was again a notable omission. Now, with Morena injured, Baxter had no choice but to get Mkhize in - and, while belated, the player’s presence will have a positive effect on Bafana.
“I accept this call-up with gratitude,” said Mkhize. “Any opportunity to represent my country is something I will always take great pride in. We’ve got a big task on our hands. I will do all I can to help Bafana over the line. That’s my nature, and I’m sure the other players in the Bafana squad also feel this way.”
Mkhize’s career has really soared over the last two years. It’s astounding to believe that, before he arrived at City in September 2016, his career had almost stalled. From Cato Ridge in KZN, and having played for clubs like Golden Arrows and Maritzburg United, he was on the verge of a high-profile transfer to Orlando Pirates.
The move fell through, though, and Mkhize was left clubless and unsure of his future. It was at this time that City stepped in and persuaded the defender to join the then newly-established PSL club in 2016.
“Yo Thabo, Thami hold up, I’m on the way!” 📞— Cape Town City FC (@CapeTownCityFC) October 10, 2018
Gift Links has been called up to represent Bafana Bafana 🇿🇦 against the Seychelles 🇸🇨 in the #2019AfconQualifiers #iamCityFC #InternationalWatch pic.twitter.com/AI6IvM7mVv
Initially, he was signed as defensive cover, to add some depth to the team, but, as soon as he got his opportunity, he rapidly demonstrated his commitment and ability, and became a regular in the starting team.
The arrival of Benni McCarthy as City coach then elevated the status of Mkhize even more. Always a tough tackler and a supreme defender, the new coach has improved the right-back’s attacking game.
Now Mkhize is a regular presence bombing forward in offence and putting in crosses for the forwards to get on the end of. McCarthy was so impressed with the dedication and team ethic of Mkhize that, when skipper Robyn Johannes joined Bidvest Wits this season, the next man in line for the City captaincy was a no-brainer: Mkhize. Now, all Mkhize wants is just to enjoy his time with Bafana.
He won’t be the only City player in the squad as he joins central midfielder Thabo Nodada, who has been called up by Bafana for the first time. Mkhize is happy for Nodada; he believes his teammate’s hard work has finally paid off and he fully deserves being in the squad.
“I’m very happy for Thabo (Nodada),” said Mkhize. “He’s a real fighter; he deserves to be in the Bafana squad as well. I know he will contribute immensely if given the opportunity to play.”