CAPE TOWN – Surprise Ralani was in sparkling form for Cape Town City following his return from injury.The 31-year-old winger had been out for quite a while. But, back fit and ready, coach Benni McCarthy drafted the player into the team for the PSL fixture against AmaZulu at the Cape Town Stadium on Saturday night. And, boy, was Ralani good as the hosts swept to a comfortable 3-0 victory.
After weeks of struggling in front of goal, Cape Town City were in desperate need of some inspiration. McCarthy cut a frustrated figure on the touchline as his team continued to squander chance after chance: he needed a solution; the team needed some creativity in attack.
Enter Ralani. The winger from Kimberley in the Northern Cape terrorised AmaZulu and he was at the heart of every attacking move for City. His glue-like touch and awareness of space infused the Citizens with confidence. More than that, his presence out wide and his intelligent crossing also brought out the best from striker Siphelele Mthembu.
The inspiration City and McCarthy had been searching for had arrived. Ralani was back - and he was on fire.
“Surprise is such an important player for us,” said McCarthy. “You can see we missed him when he was out injured. He has experience, he has European quality - and, as you can see, when he is fit and ready, that is the kind of performance that he can deliver. You saw from our second goal that he was able to provide the pass on a platter for ‘Shaka’ (Mthembu).
“What’s important for us now is that it is good to have everybody back available for selection. Injuries and suspensions have affected us in recent weeks.”
When Ralani signed for City in January it was his first stint in the PSL. The winger had previously played all his football in Europe, with clubs like Helsingborgs IF, IFK Hässleholm and Landskrona Bois (Sweden) and Lyngby BK (Denmark).
McCarthy initially brought Ralani along slowly, allowing him the time and space to adapt to the new surroundings and the pace of the game in the PSL. But, once the player got into the team on a regular basis, he showed his class and quickly developed into an influential member of the squad.
Injury, though, curtailed his progress. He even missed out on the MTN8 final last month.
Ralani had been back at training for a while and McCarthy admitted he could perhaps have used him a earlier if he wanted to. But, as a coach, the former Bafana Bafana striker tends to err on the side of caution. He doesn’t like to bring players back too soon from injury and then run the risk of them breaking down again. So he allowed Ralani the time to fully recover - and, when the time was right, as it was against AmaZulu on Saturday, he was able to get the very best out of the player.
It’s certainly looking a lot better for City, especially with their key players returning to the starting team. Goalkeeper Peter Leeuwenburgh, Austrian Roland Putsche, central defender Taariq Fielies and Ralani are all available again - and the Capetonians can plan for a strong finish to the year.