JOHANNESBURG - If there was one player in the Bafana Bafana starting line-up who was all but guaranteed to start against Cape Verde for a 2018 World Cup qualifier next week, it was goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune.
But the Kaizer Chiefs shot-stopper, along with Bidvest Wits’ Darren Keet, who is viewed as a his back-up, were both withdrawn from the squad’s crucial fixtures against the Blue Sharks in Praia on September 1 and in Durban four days later.
Bafana coach Stuart Baxter, however, moved quickly to replace the duo with Wayne Sandilands and Reyaad Pieterse.
Khune has a chest infection and is yet to play for his club since the start of the PSL campaign. The same can be said for Keet, who is struggling to recover from an ankle injury.
“At the time I was speaking to you guys (the press, at his squad announcement on Monday) I was told Khune should be able to make the trip, but what I didn’t know was that Chiefs were waiting for lab tests that confirmed his infection is contagious because he also has an asthma issue,” said Baxter.
“So, he can’t travel with the team even if we wanted him to in the hope that he would recover while we are there.
"As for Darren, I have been in constant communication with Gavin (Hunt, the Wits coach) a lot and he’d been talking about giving Darren an injection, which would have been the silver bullet. But as it turns out he will still take too long to recover.”
Baxter named SuperSport United keeper Ronwen Williams as the third goalkeeper, and he remains in the squad.
With Khune, Bafana’s most capped goalkeeper of all-time, clearly a massive blow, what do Sandilands and Pieterse offer?
“The situation is obviously not ideal, but the ball has now been handed to someone else to step up,” the coach said.
“I think with Wayne we still have an experienced goalkeeper who has been there before and has done it. It has been a while since he was with the national team, but I think he is well equipped.
"Reyaad doesn’t have a lot of games under his belt, but he has the international experience and has been in these sort of situations before.”
Sandilands, 33, has made just seven appearances for Bafana.
Pieterse, Williams’ teammate at SuperSport, has never played for the senior men’s national team.
Although he officially has three caps for Bafana, those appearances were in last year’s Cosafa Cup with a side made up of Under-23 players in preparation for the Rio Olympics.
Pieterse was earmarked for a place in the team as one of the over-aged players, but his poor performance in the Cosafa Cup ruled him out. It was instead Khune who was picked as the over-aged player.
“I thought Wayne had a very good game at the weekend (keeping a clean sheet on debut for Pirates in their 1-0 win over Chippa United),” said Baxter.
“You could see he is an experienced goalkeeper. I know Reyaad hasn’t played but I picked two guys who would be able to help us in these two matches, not in five years’ time.”
Bafana leave for Cape Verde next Tuesday and are currently placed second in Group D of the World Cup qualifiers - equal on points with log leaders Burkina Faso following a draw against them and a victory over Senegal last year.
Senegal complete the World Cup qualification group.