JOHANNESBURG - So much for not allowing Teboho Mokoena and Sipho Mbule to report in time for the Africa Under-23 Cup of Nations with the SA Under-23 team, as SuperSport United could only bag a draw with the help of the duo’s services on Tuesday.
On Monday, a moment of embarrassment engulfed Safa, with the U23 Afcon bound team having to depart for Egypt with only 13 players.
This was after a string of integral players were not released by their clubs, who cited that the start of the tournament on Friday falls outside the Fifa calendar.
David Notoane’s men begin their continental campaign against Zambia on Saturday the last weekend before the start of the last international break of 2019.
The South Africans, who are gunning for a top-three finish that will ensure they qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, are set to begin their campaign without some of their talismen, notably Mokoena and Mbule.
The SuperSport duo have been the heart of Matsantsantsa this season, inspiring the team to the MTN8 crown, the most financially rewarding Cup competition in the South Africa.
However, their impressive exploits were as equal at international level, with the duo being a pillar of strength as the U23s defeated Angola and Zimbabwe 6-1 and 5-0 in their qualifiers, sealing their ticket to continental showpiece.
However, SuperSport chief executive Stan Matthews blatantly made it clear that they won’t be releasing Mokoena and Mbule for the U23 Afcon, at least until the commencement of the international break.
As usual, the duo started in their team’s Telkom Knockout quarter-final clash against Golden Arrows on the weekend, but their availability didn’t bear any fruit as Kaitano Tembo’s men crashed out of the competition.
That encounter, however, didn’t have an effect on their immediate availability for the national team, especially with the squad having assembled for camp on Sunday.
Instead, Mokoena and Mbule played in Tuesday’s PSL match against Arrows that ensured they didn’t board the flight to the Land of the Pharaohs with the rest of their teammates.
SuperSport played Abafana Bes’thende to a goalless draw, salvaging a point through some piece of brilliant goalkeeping from Ronwen Williams, who subsequently walked away with the man-of-the-match award.
Mbule started the match, while Mokoena replaced him in the second half. Sure, that might have been a precautionary measure by the club to keep them injury free, but their efforts could prove to be a drop in the ocean if anything goes wrong in the next match against Wits tomorrow or South Africa loses their opener against Zambia.
If Notoane’s men are to increase their chances of making the semi-finals in Egypt, they need to defeat Zambia in the opener, bagging ample confidence for the huge challenges that will be presented by Ivory Coast and defending champions Nigeria in the last two matches of the group stage.
Nonetheless, while the patriotic football fraternity members rally behind the U23s in their pursuit of their second successive Olympic qualification, they hope Mbule and Mokoena join the rest of the team on Monday safe and sound.