JOHANNESBURG – Kamohelo Mokotjo isn’t reading too much into his return to Egypt 10 years after he was part of the South African Under-20 team that reached the knockout stage of a World Cup for the first time in the country’s history.
Amajita’s record still stands, they are the only South African national football team that has made it out of their group at a World Cup.
Mokotjo, Darren Keet, Ramahlwe Mphahlele, Thulani Serero and captain Thulani Hlatshwayo are back in Egypt - with the senior national team this time around in the Africa Cup of Nations where Bafana Bafana haven’t done that well in the past.
They will be looking to rewrite that disappointing history, starting today against Ivory Coast at Al Salam Stadium (4.30pm kickoff).
While Mokotjo downplays the sentimental meaning of their return, he revealed what the 2009 World Cup did for Amajita.
“It gave us a different experience,” Mokotjo said. “We got to play against different countries, which gave us an experience that you wouldn’t get from just playing in South Africa or against South African players. You get players who are physical, players who are more technical than you, whether you like it or not.
You get teams that play quicker, teams that are used to conditions that we aren’t used to. Playing in a tournament like that could only make you a better player.”
Mokotjo struggled to break into the national team after his graduation from the U20s. At one point he even gave up, adopting Dutch citizenship which would have helped him move around Europe easily with no trouble of getting a work permit, but saw him turn his back on Bafana.
Stuart Baxter managed to convince him to “keep” his South African citizenship and return to the Bafana fold. He has become an important component of the team. While he was struggling to break into the Bafana side, Mokotjo was moving up the ladder in Europe - going from Feyenoord to PEC Zwolle and FC Twente in the Netherlands before making his big break in England to represent Brentford in the Championship.
“It’s discipline, hard work and respecting the game that is behind my consistency. The older you grow, the more you respect the game. Once you get old and don’t respect the game, everything else, not just football, sucks you in. It’s important to respect your job and yourself. Respect your body and mentality.”
Well wishes from @Banyana_Banyana head coach Desiree Ellis to @BafanaBafana head coach Stuart Baxter and his team in Cairo, Egypt ahead of the @AFCON_2019 tournament @SAFA_net pic.twitter.com/G46s22piwD— Bafana Bafana (@BafanaBafana) June 23, 2019
Bafana have to respect their bodies in Egypt because it will be extremely hot in their match against Ivory Coast. How Bafana deal with the heat will be huge because a large part of their game lies on their energy.
To ensure that they are ready for such conditions, the team spend some time in Dubai where temperature are over 40 degrees Celsius. Cairo is cooler than that, which has helped Bafana acclimatise to the heat.
“We are an energetic side. In order for us to perform well, we need to produce a lot of movement and a lot of skills on the pitch, a lot of speed too.
But the boys are disciplined enough to handle the heat and still put up a good performance,” Mokotjo said.