JOHANNESBURG – Despite working with Zakhele Lepasa during his first Under-23 national team camp, coach David Notoane admits the striker’s selection for Bafana Bafana’s Cosafa Cup squad was largely due to his impressive efforts for TS Galaxy in the Nedbank Cup.
When Notoane assembled his first squad for the U23 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers against Angola in March, Lepasa was part of the group but the latter had to cut his national team involvement short due to his club commitments with Galaxy.
The 22-year-old striker went on to inspire the Rockets to the unthinkable - as Galaxy became the first NFD team to win South Africa’s premier club knockout Cup competition after beating Kaizer Chiefs in the final on Sunday.
Justifiably, Lepasa bagged the Nedbank Cup’s Player of the Tournament after scoring four goals in as many matches, with one of his contributions the winning strike against Chiefs.
“Naturally, yes (he was brought back because of his exploits in the Nedbank Cup),” Notoane admitted during the Cosafa Cup squad announcement this week. “I mentioned that we went through the talent that we’ve had in our pipelines.
But we had to drop him out for the qualifiers against Angola because TS Galaxy were about to start their Nedbank Cup tournament. He did very well in the tournament, and there’s no doubt that he’s one of the emerging talents for the future.”
Notoane, who will spearhead Bafana’s Cosafa Cup challenge while Stuart Baxter is preparing for Afcon with his squad, will open his team’s account in the regional tournament against Botswana in the quarter-finals on June 2.
Despite the two squads being different in terms of selections, the door is not closed for players to ascend to the Afcon squad if they perform in the Cosafa Cup.
Baxter will announce his final Afcon squad on June 10, while Cosafa Cup players will be selected before then if there are any casualties in the main Bafana squad.
Should Lepasa produce the goods in the Cosafa Cup, he will be part of three U23 bystanders that will travel with Bafana to Egypt for Afcon that runs from June 21-July 19.
Keagan Dolly was the only player to be included in both squads.@Mihlalibaleka