From Itumeleng Khune to Percy Tau, TFGSoccerClub writer DYLAN APPOLIS takes a look at five players who could star for Bafana Bafana in their Afcon qualifier against Nigeria.
The South African national team could potentially qualify for the African Cup of Nations if they managed to beat the Super Eagles at the FNB Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Stuart Baxter’s men have a chance to make history by claiming back-to-back wins over Nigeria, having beaten them for the first time in a competitive match when they secured a 2-0 victory in Uyo in their opening Afcon Group E encounter on 10 June 2017.
Take a look at five players who could determine the outcome of the game for Bafana Bafana.
The 31-year-old has been in impressive form for the national team during their exploits in the Afcon qualifiers, having kept four clean sheets in their first four games against Nigeria, Libya and Seychelles.
A regular in the national team set-up, Khune will be hoping to go one step closer to becoming Bafana’s all-time most capped player; he is currently on 90 caps, 17 appearances away from breaking former captain Aaron Mokoena’s record of 107.
Baxter will be hoping the Amakhosi shot-stopper can maintain the form that saw him keep seven clean sheets from 15 appearances for Kaizer Chiefs so far this season.
‘For me, my job is to marshal, communicate and organise my defence very well, and I think with the current run of clean sheets, everyone deserves credit,’ Khune said.
‘Because everyone that has been given an opportunity to get on the field and do the job has done it very well.’
The former Mamelodi Sundowns star has established himself as the leading line for Bafana over the last two years, having bagged six goals from 15 appearances for the national team and most recently three goals in his last five appearances.
The Belgium-based forward will be a key player for injury-ravaged South Africa.
‘The squad is good enough, we just have to get the goals,’ Tau said. ‘We want to go to Afcon, it is one of the biggest tournaments for the national team and we want to be part of that.
‘It’s about time that we participate a lot more in these types of tournaments. I’m confident that we will do that, but we have to get the goals. There is still a lot of teamwork that has to be done, but the squad is good enough.’
Mothiba has had a promising start to his Bafana career and has been a breath of fresh air for the national team in front of goal alongside striking partner Tau.
The 22-year-old has already managed to register three goals from his first four games under the guidance of Baxter, and managed to bang in seven goals from 13 games for Strasbourg and Lille in the French Ligue 1 this year.
Mothiba will be relishing the chance to stretch his legs against Nigeria’s star-studded squad and continue his red-hot form for club and country.
‘We can’t relax because they have [Odion] Ighalo out. We know that Nigeria have good strikers with physique – strong and fast. So we just have to prepare ourselves by doing well at training for our game on Saturday,’ Mothiba said.
‘It’s going to be a difficult game but we have to work hard at training, focus during the game, play as a team and give everything.’
The 28-year-old has been included in Baxter’s 23-man squad to face the Super Eagles, despite stating that he would only report for national team duty if guaranteed a place in the starting lineup.
Serero has not taken part in any of Bafana’s four qualifiers up to now, but could potentially be named in the starting lineup as he comes in to replace Kamohelo Mokotjo.
During his time with Vitesse, Serero has been ever-present in the squad, while playing more of a defensive midfield role at the club, which saw him turn out 16 times for the Dutch side.
The former Ajax Cape Town midfielder will be looking forward to making an impact on Saturday after impressing during Bafana’s practice game at Steyn City School on Wednesday.
‘It feels good. I’m back in the country‚ seeing the guys‚ everybody in the squad – it feels good‚’ Serero said.
‘I’m South African, and I love playing for my country. It’s nothing more than that, I don’t have to say anything else.’
The 28-year-old is expected to start at right back after he rejoined the national team this week. Mphahlele is among several core players who have established themselves as regulars in the set-up under coach Baxter.
The former Mamelodi Sundowns captain has recently been in fine form for Kaizer Chiefs, which saw him find the back of the net three times from 17 appearances so far this season.
The defender will surely be an influential figure in the Bafana backline, having played the full 90 minutes in their first four qualifiers, which saw him claim four clean sheets in the process.
‘We have a very strong bond in the changeroom. With some new players coming into the squad, finding such a welcoming camp makes it easier to gel into a winning team,’ Mphahlele said.
‘This is a must-win, but we must play our normal game according to the plan that the coach will give us to master and apply on the day. That we have beaten them before will not count on the day.’
Other notable mentions include:
Dino Ndlovu, Vincent Pule, Themba Zwane and Lebogang Maboe.
Bafana Bafana against Nigeria kicks off at 3pm.
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