Bafana squad fairly unscathed by Fifa ruling
Four players will not be returning for the matches against Ghana, but five are in the team
Bafana Bafana coach Molefi Ntseki’s squad appears to have emerged relatively unscathed from a Fifa circular decimating squads across the continent for the final two rounds of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.
By the assurances Ntseki has received after spending the past two weeks frantically calling clubs, just four of Bafana’s nine overseas-based players will be ruled out of the crucial matches against Ghana at FNB Stadium on March 25 and Sudan in Khartoum on March 28.
And crucially English Premiership-based star striker Percy Tau of Brighton & Hove Albion is among those coming. The others returning are the three Portugal-based players — Thibang Phete, Luther Singh and Lyle Foster; and Israel-based Siyanda Xulu.
This follows a Fifa circular regarding Covid-19 stating that clubs are not expected to release players if there is a “mandatory period of quarantine or self-isolation of at least five days upon arrival”.
France’s Ligue 1 has declared no players will be released, ruling out Montpellier’s Keagan Dolly for Bafana. The other players who will not join Ntseki’s squad are Bongani Zungu (Rangers, Scotland), Dean Furman (Carlisle, England) and Abu Dhabi-based Thulani Serero.
That Ntseki has managed to retain five of his overseas brigade mitigates to a large extent what might have been a far worse situation, especially given that Ghana apparently foresaw the problem, and have been training in Accra with a locally based squad for a month.
“We selected the team seven days before the squad announcement [on March 4]. So in those seven days I spoke to all the overseas-based players just to find out their situations, and some not playing, and why they were not playing,” Ntseki said on Thursday.
“I did that research in terms of their availability, and they were all positive. But I think what has made life very difficult was for Fifa to appear to be protective of Uefa [European FAs].”
Ntseki already had injury challenges due to frenetic domestic schedules in Covid-19 conditions.
With Tau struggling for first team action at Brighton, coach Graham Potter apparently saw Bafana’s two Nations Cup matches as an opportunity for the forward to get valuable game time, even with quarantining challenges.
“Percy Tau will be coming — we got confirmation yesterday [Wednesday] from the club, and they also asked for the GPS scores of the training sessions and loading for the player,” Ntseki said.
Ghana have trained with a squad of 22 home-based players plus China-based Mubarak Wakaso and Emmanuel Boateng. Coach Charles Akonnor has left out a host of European-based stars such as Jordan and Andre Ayew (Crystal Palace and Swansea City), Baba Rahman (Chelsea) and Joseph Aidoo (Celta Vigo).
With Bafana retaining some European-based players, this could work to Ntseki’s advantage as SA arguably have more experienced heads in their squad.
However, Ntseki cautioned that with exciting young players in the Black Stars’ ranks — such as 17-year-old Abdul Fatawu, player of the tournament at the Under-20 Africa Cup of Nations in Mauritania, where Ghana beat Uganda in the final recently — they will still be formidable.
“You can’t be thinking of Ghana being less strong. They are bringing younger players, players who are hungry to be in the national team. They will play to prove a point,” the coach said.
“And they have been in camp for a month. And we cannot do that in SA, because our league has commitments.”
Ntseki said the four Bafana replacement players will be announced after the weekend’s round of Premier Soccer League matches.
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