AFCON QUALIFYING CAMPAIGN
Bafana players who can hit and run in Nigeria
Bafana Bafana do not need to go to Nigeria trying to play for a win. They need to sneak in‚ commit a burglary and make a run for it with a draw‚ with anything more a bonus.
Stuart Baxter has already identified goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune and Dean Furman in midfield as the kind of battlers he needs for trench warfare in Nigeria.
The new Bafana coach names his squad on Thursday for the opening match of SA’s 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifying campaign on June 10 in Uyo in Nigeria.
SA have never beaten their nemesis Super Eagles in a competitive match‚ let alone away‚ though Bafana did hold a 2-0 lead against Nigeria in Uyo in 2014 before late goals saw the game end 2-2‚ a result that saw Shakes Mashaba’s men qualify for the 2015 Afcon at the defending champions’ expense.
So any result will do, especially in Baxter’s first game in charge.
Baxter has five players who can perform just such a smash-and-grab job:
Thulani Hlatshwayo: Nicknamed "Tyson", Hlatshwayo has been the stalwart in defence who played such a key role in Bidvest Wits winning their first league title in 96 years.
He is one of the few South African footballers who can stand toe-to-toe with the big Nigerians, and match their earth-shattering challenges.
Sifiso Hlanti: If Baxter is looking for battlers and physical presence, he need not look further than another of Wits’ key title winners.
And Hlanti can get forward on the overlap too. Mamelodi Sundowns’ Tebogo is a better attacker from left-back‚ but Hlanti is defensively stronger.
Hlompho Kekana: Kekana can notch so many midfield battles won around the continent now, after Sundowns became African club champions last year, that he’s running out of space on his bedpost.
Big‚ strong in the challenge and completely unafraid‚ "KK" is the midfield warrior Baxter needs in the centre of the park.
Bongani Zungu: Zungu might seem a little on the stylish and skilful side for the job, but he has made his breakthrough and been in the sort of form that has made him the player his teammates give the ball to at Vitoria Guimaraes in Portugal.
And he is big and strong for a playmaker‚ does also play deep in central midfield and can get involved in the physical exchanges.
Defence starts from the front‚ and Zungu can both create and defend from playmaker‚ deployed in front of Furman and Kekana in deeper roles.
Tokelo Rantie: He reminded all of his ability with a wonder goal this past weekend for Gençlerbirligi against Büyüksehir.
Rantie might not have found consistency in Turkey‚ with just two goals in 18 starts‚ but his pace in outstripping defences is always a destructive weapon‚ even if he lacks a finish.
Importantly, Rantie was the star player in the last 2-2 draw in Uyo‚ scoring a brace either side of the break