Itumeleng Khune will captain Bafana Bafana while Siyabonga Zulu will make his national team debut in the CAF Africa Cup of Nations Gabon 2017 qualifier against Mauritania on Saturday. The Group M clash will be played at the Olympic Stadium in Nouakchott, Mauritania. Kickoff is at 19:00 (17:00 local time in Mauritania).
Playing in his 71st international, Khune, who is the most capped South African goalkeeper, will marshall Bafana Bafana’s rearguard with Anele Ngcongca, Eric Mathoho, Rivaldo Coetzee and Zulu of Platinum Stars. Khune says: ‘It is always an honour to represent my country in any match we play, more so in such a crucial clash that we know we have to win so as remain within touching distance with Cameroon who are currently leading our group. We had a very good week of preparations and we are confident that it will show on the field. We are facing a very difficult side in their backyard but the group we have gives me the courage to say we can return home with good results. The pitch looks perfect and will surely be catalyst in our brand of football that we play. Despite the high temperatures we are more than ready to face Mauritania.’
The midfield has a familiar look about it with Dean Furman playing alongside Andile Jali while Mandla Masango and Thulani Serero will operating from the wings. The strikeforce role has been handed to Thamsanqa Gabuza and Tokelo Rantie. Only six players started in the goalless draw against Gambia in the first match of the qualifiers in June in Durban – Khune, Ngcongca, Coetzee, Jali, Serero and Gabuza.
Back then, Thabo Matlaba, Thulani Hlatshwayo, Oupa Manyisa, May Mahlangu and Ayanda Patosi completed the starting eleven. Only Patosi is in the current squad but will start on the bench together with goalkeeper Jackson Mabokgwane, defenders Mzikayise Mashaba and Clayton Daniels as well as midfielders Mpho Makola (who could make his debut should he get a run), Bongani Zungu and forward Sibusiso Vilakazi. Six players have not been considered for the match – Ronwen Williams, Siyabonga Nhlapho, Phumlani Ntshangase, Jabulani Shongwe, Themba Zwane and Daylon Claasen.
Bafana Bafana completed their preparations at the Olympic Stadium on Friday afternoon (4 September). Coach Shakes Mashaba says: ‘I believe we have done all we had to do to prepare for this match. What is left is now for the players to go and apply themselves. We have been drumming into them that this is a must-win match because any other result will only set us back a long way and we don’t want to be playing catch-up in the qualifiers. I am positive that with the chosen 11 we will get the required outcome. All the players lifted their hands to make the squad but since we are guided by rules we could only go for those we have chosen. The good thing though is that we have another match on Tuesday, 8 September (a Nelson Mandela Challenge clash against Senegal at Orlando Stadium) so those who are not facing Mauritania could get a run then.’
A win in Nouackchott will see Mashaba set a new record of 23 wins for Bafana Bafana – his current wins of 22 are a joint record with former senior national team coach Clive Barker.
SA starting XI: Itumeleng Khune (GK) (c), Anele Ngcongca, Rivaldo Coetzee, Eric Mathoho, Siyabonga Zulu, Andile Jali, Dean Furman, Thulani Serero, Mandla Masango, Thamsanqa Gabuza, Tokelo Rantie
Subs: Jackson Mabokgwane (GK), Clayton Daniels, Bongani Zungu, Mzikayise Mashaba, Mpho Makola, Ayanda Patosi, Sibusiso Vilakazi
Photo credit: AFP PHOTO / KHALED DESOUKI