Tapelo Xoki: Captain Fantastic

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  • Post published:June 10, 2024

Orlando Pirates captain Tapelo Xoki has been one of the most consistent defenders in the DStv Premiership for several season, writes Mazola Molefe.

Perhaps Bafana Bafana coach Hugo Broos had been spoilt for choice or had been tossing and turning at night as he concluded with the decision to leave Tapelo Xoki out of his Africa Cup of Nations squad. In some fairness – and hindsight – to the Belgian mentor, the options presented were still of high quality and had been on the national-team radar before the tournament proper in Ivory Coast between January and February.

Also, had it not been for SAFA skimping on costs, the Orlando Pirates skipper would have been one of the additional four permitted by CAF to be included in the national team after the Covid pandemic created room for more players.

However, Xoki could only be on standby and never got to travel to the continental competition that ended with South Africa coming home with a bronze medal. That must have hurt. “I am happy with my progress,” says Xoki, embracing the disappointment of not having made the AFCON team with humility.

“It’s only my second season here at Pirates. I have to just keep on working hard and making sure I stay grounded and keep pushing. For me, the sky is the limit. I know I am not in my early 20s, but I can always dream. I will keep pushing and dreaming to make sure that I achieve those goals.”

At the time of writing, the former AmaZulu centre back had managed 28 appearances in all competitions for the Buccaneers – and what is even more impressive is that Xoki had only missed one DStv Premiership fixture. This was, presumably, to rest him ahead of the Soweto Derby with Kaizer Chiefs: Pirates faced off against Sekhukhune United a few days prior in November last year. The 29-year-old has become a mainstay of the team.

Whether being partnered with Olisa Ndah or Nkosinathi Sibisi at rear guard, Xoki appears to be the glue coach José Riveiro cannot do without, and it helps that he has goals in him too.

“It feels great when it works out,” he says when asked about the five goals he had scored for Pirates at the time. “We have been working on that a lot, but we had not done well in terms of converting. But with chances created we are among the best. We just needed to put them in.”

The Bafana Bafana opportunity also finally came his way, with Broos naming the defender in his 23-man squad for the FIFA series in March when Bafana faced Algeria and Andorra as part of the ongoing preparation for the World Cup qualifiers. Broos said there was no better time to give players on the periphery the chance to prove they can add value than during friendly matches.

Xoki was among those keen to stamp their authority and impress Broos, who is looking to refresh the AFCON side with players who can help elevate their performance with the likes of Nigeria, Benin, Rwanda and Lesotho waiting in the wings next. The tall Pirates centre back has certainly raised his hand.

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