Bring On The Big Boys, Says Thulani Hlatshwayo

Thulani Hlatshwayo says he is looking forward to playing in CAF Orange Africa Cup of Nations Equatorial Guinea 2015 tournament.  With the continent brimming with physically well-built players, compared to his compatriots, the defender says he is pretty much at home facing big strikers.  Born in Soweto, the man known as Tyson because of his big size, Hlatshwayo has been capped 12 times for Bafana Bafana and says he can’t wait for the start of the tournament.  He made his Bafana Bafana debut on 13 July 2013 against Namibia in a COSAFA Cup clash, and has also played in the Under-20 and Under-23 National teams.

Tyson played all four opening qualifiers of AFCON 2015 but missed the last two because of suspension in the fifth match against Sudan in Durban. (He was not selected because the matches were played back to back and had to miss the final qualifier against Nigeria away).  SAFA Media sat down with him after the clash with Cameroon to hear his thoughts.

Matlhomola Morake: What do you think of the clash against Cameroon?

Thulani Hlatshwayo: We were very happy with our second half performance but we just need to switch on during the critical phases of the matches and that is something we need to work on now.  These practice matches are tests of things we will face in the tournament.  On other occasions we might be scored first and might not be able to come back like we did against Cameroon, we are not a second half team we need to play from the first whistle.

MM: The tournament is edging closer and closer, what are your thoughts on your opponents – Algeria, Senegal and Ghana?

TH: No one gave us a chance against Nigeria, many expected them to bulldoze us but as a team we wanted to break the hoodoo of us always losing to the Super Eagles.  The good thing about this group of players is that we have respect for all the teams in the tournament but are not scared of them.  We did well against Zambia, against Cameroon and we hope the same continues when we face Mali – now all these are big guns on the continent.  They have big name players while we have lesser-known players but we are not intimidated.  We are prepared to fight to the end.

MM: What would you like to achieve in this event?

TH: I would like to win something with Bafana Bafana, the AFCON tournament in particular.  Zambia did it and have inspired us that we can also do well.  We won this tournament in 1996 and we now want to be new talk of the town by winning this event.

MM: You seem to enjoy the physical battles on the field?

TH: It’s the kind of game I enjoy.  As a defender there will be that one guy who is always giving problems upfront and I am always happy when I see a big striker playing next to me because it means then that we are both going to compete.  And that is one of the reasons I chose to play for BidVest Wits because Gavin Hunt’s character matches mine and I knew I would enjoy my football going there.  Most teams on the continent play a 4-4-2 formation and they normally have a big striker but I am more than prepared.  When opponents play aerial balls I say thank you because that is my strength.

MM: But how do you manage to deal with them?

TH: There is a trick I was taught by former Bafana Bafana assistant coach Serame Letsoaka that when there is a troublesome striker playing next to you how do you deal with them.  It is a difficult trick which took me years to master, but once you get it you fear no one.  I tried it against Cameroon and it worked, I was happy with myself.  Now I will continue using it because it will help my game.  We have seen Algeria play, we have seen Senegal play and we know some of the guys playing for Ghana and they will all come with their physical presence but I am more than ready, they need to know that this is not a ladies game they need to be strong.

MM: Did you watch some of your opponents in the qualifiers to familiarize yourself with their style of play?

TH: As much as we were not sure that we would make the final team, we needed to make sure that we watched the opposition.   would then share with my fellow players especially Eric Mathoho as to what to expect.  We have been watching AFCON for some time now and we have seen most of the teams in action and we know what to expect, what they can offer.  We always have to be prepared because there are always surprises in the tournament.  There will be that team that people don’t rate much but they end up going all the way, and that is what we want to do as well.

MM: Leadership in the team, how important is it?

TH: It is very important to have leaders all round in the team.  Dean Furman, Yeye (Reneilwe Letsholonyane), Bernard Parker, Anele Ngcongca – those are experienced guys in the squad.  And as the coach always tells us we are all captains.  If you think about it I have been captain, Yeye has been captain, Sibusiso Vilakazi, Oupa Manyisa, Andile Jali, Dean, Anele, Parker – it doesn’t mean you have to wear the armband to show that you are the captain, but with your leadership skills and your character you can help the team.  We just have to help each other and be united so we can go forward.