Bafana Bafana Squad Talking Points
By Leonard Solms
Molefi Ntseki once again showed that he is unafraid of omitting big names from his national team squads after naming a 25-strong group that would face Namibia and Zambia in international friendlies, scheduled for 8 and 11 October respectively.
Gladwin Shitolo kept his place in the side with Ntseki once again showing his faith, while Kurt Abrahams’ first call-up came as somewhat of a surprise.
There were several more talking points from Ntseki’s picks, and it is fairly safe to say that in many cases here, one man’s joy is another’s pain.
Still no Bongani Zungu
Bongani Zungu openly confessed to being “hurt” by Bafana Bafana head coach Molefi Ntseki’s decision to leave him out of his squad in March. Once again, Zungu has not made the cut, but after seeing limited recent game time at club level, the coach may have his reasons.
Zungu’s Amiens were controversially relegated from Ligue 1 last season with the campaign cut short due to COVID-19. He missed their first four Ligue 2 games before appearing off the bench on 26 September. He then started against SM Caen on 3 October after the Bafana squad had been announced.
The 27-year-old midfielder has been linked with a move elsewhere, Steven Gerrard’s Rangers was the one widely reported possible destination. At the time of writing, he remains an Amiens player.
Unsurprisingly, fellow midfielder Kamohelo Mokotjo has missed out on the squad. At the time of the squad announcement, he was on the verge of making his first appearance for Major League Soccer club Cincinnati FC. That eventually came over the weekend off the bench against Minnesota United. Having waited months after his last appearance for Brentford to see competitive action again, these COVID-ridden times mean that it might not have been sensible for Mokotjo to be on international duty.
Stars of Africa shining bright
Given his established track record playing overseas, Pacos de Ferreira attacker Luther Singh’s lack of sustained game time in the national setup has come as a surprise to many.
Former Bafana coach Stuart Baxter told ESPN that he had stayed clear of selecting Singh, whose parent club is Braga, in his Africa Cup of Nations squad because he did not want to build him up only to let him down.
“We didn’t want to bring him in and give him a false dawn. Kermit was very similar. Kermit was just putting his career back together, really, with Cape Town City. To bring him back too early into the national squad would have been more of a hindrance than a help,” Baxter said.
“When people are selected, they want to also play. They want a chance. When you bring them in and they don’t play, it sometimes gets in the way and knocks their confidence.”
It remains to be seen how central Singh is to Ntseki’s plans, but having starred at the U23 Africa Cup of Nations last year, it appears he has done enough to convince the new coach to give him a chance at the very least.
Meanwhile, Thibang ‘Cafu’ Phete, a fellow product of the Stars of Africa Academy, has earned his debut call-up thanks to his steady progress at Belenenses SAD. He is likely there to add beef to the backline, but he is also comfortable playing in midfield.
Stars of Africa coaching director Farouk Khan will undoubtedly be brimming from ear to ear should Phete and Singh play starring roles in successful Bafana outings.
Khune misses the cut
Given that he only played only four league games in 2019-20 for Kaizer Chiefs, perhaps it is not altogether surprising that Itumeleng Khune has missed out on national team selection.
Khune controversially made Ntseki’s squad in March for what was supposed to be an Africa Cup of Nations qualifying double-header against Sao Tome and Principe. However, it appears the coach has not seen enough since then to convince him Khune should remain.
Ricardo Goss has been called up alongside Darren Keet and Ronwen Williams after his tremendous form for Bidvest Wits at the end of the PSL season. Goss recently signed for Mamelodi Sundowns. Nevertheless, Williams will likely remain the first choice for Bafana. The upcoming friendlies do afford some room for rotation even in this position though.
Ntseki opted for a blend of youth and experience in his squad. The inclusions of Singh and Phete were necessary and he should be applauded for these decisions. However, the likes of Luke le Roux, Gift Links and Lyle Foster have every right to feel hard done by. In fairness, COVID-19 has had more of an impact on Ntseki’s selections than meets the eye. All factors considered, he has selected a strong group of players who can get the job done.