Happy Mashiane have many dreams he was to fulfill as a footballer. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix
Happy Mashiane is in a race against time. The versatile Kaizer Chiefs player, who has spent most of his season nursing a toe injury, is fighting to regain match fitness in time for the Under-23 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) in Egypt next month.

The 21-year-old is making his way back after seven months on the sidelines after setting the scene alight with Amakhosi.

He will be looking to regain that form so that he can be part of coach David Notoane’s squad for the tournament that serves as qualifiers for the Olympics. South Africa are grouped with Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Zambia.

Mashiane and company got a taste of what to experience in Egypt after playing a training match in Ismalia against the Under-23 Afcon hosts on Friday along with an international friendly in Cairo that they lost 1-0.

“It was a great experience because as you all know, I spent seven months without playing football and when I got back from that injury I was called up to the national team,” Mashiane said.

“It was a great feeling because I wasn’t expecting that but it’s every boy’s dream to be at this level.

“My performance wasn’t that bad, but the coach told me that there are certain aspects of my game that I need to fix. Now that I am back in my club, I think I can fix those things.”

Notoane will find it hard to assemble his strongest squad with the competition not falling in the Fifa calendar. Some clubs have already said they have reservations about releasing some of their key players.

This could give players like Mashiane an opportunity to sneak into the squad.

“They constantly say that everyone who is in the team is here on merit,” Mashiane said.

“We are doing well in the clubs that we play for and there is pressure there. It takes courage for you to step in and play in the Under-23. We are ready for the task, we have to represent South Africa well.”

Notoane and the South African Football Association (Safa) will have a conversation with the clubs this weekend before announcing the squad that will travel to Egypt.

Mashiane will use that time to get back to his best.

But he did enough to show his worth when he was given a chance by Amakhosi, showing his versatility to play at right-back and even in right wing.

“I was enjoying my football when I was injured, so now everybody is expecting me to continue where I left off in my first few months at Chiefs,” Mashiane said.

“It will take a lot to return to that level, but I am confident that I will be back at my best soon.

“This is the time for me to work harder, fix what the coach raised. If it happens that I get the call-up, it would be an honour to represent my country because I gave it my all in Egypt to show what I am capable of.”

Bonginkosi Ndadane