‘Unity the making of Bafana

2013-01-31 00:00

HE has had to be content with a place on the bench in Bafana Bafana’s last two Afcon 2013 matches, but 2010 hero and Kaizer Chiefs ace Siphiwe Tshabalala sees the bigger picture and is just as motivated as the rest of his team-mates in their quest to progress to the last four of the tournament.

Sitting out is unfamiliar territory for Tshabalala, who has been a regular starter for club and country whenever he was fit in the past two-and-a-half years, but coach Gordon Igesund has favoured natural striker Bernard Parker on the left of midfield in Bafana’s last two outings.

“What matters now is how the team is doing,” Tshabalala told the media at the team’s People’s Park training complex in Durban yesterday. “It is not about me, it is about the team winning and doing the nation proud.”

With Igesund having demonstrated a fair amount of versatility in his team selection and use of substitutes throughout the tournament so far, there is no reason to suggest that Tshabalala will not feature in Saturday night’s quarter-final against Mali at Moses Mabhida stadium.

“All of my players know that they can be called upon at any time. There is no favouritism here,” Igesund had said earlier in the week.

And if he calls on Tshabalala, he will at least have the experience of a player who has 70 international caps under his belt. Besides, the winger offers the pace and skill to provide a constant threat to get in behind the Malian defence — something Igesund has labelled as crucial to his side’s chances.

“I am ready,” said Tshabalala. “If I get my chance I will be grateful and I will give my best.”

The 28-year-old added that he couldn’t recall many Bafana squads that were closer than this one since making his debut in 2006.

“Unity is what makes this team,” he said. “Even the guys who aren’t playing are just as passionate.”

This sentiment was echoed by reserve goalkeeper Wayne Sandilands, who has witnessed the form of number one shot-stopper Itumeleng Khune in all three of Bafana’s clashes so far.

“I think that he [Khune] has a lot of experience and he has had a very solid tournament. He saved us in our last game [against Morocco],” said Sandilands. “But it is not about individuals here, it is about a nation.”

Even Siboniso Gaxa, who is almost certain to start on Saturday in place of the suspended Anele Ngcongca at right-back, wasn’t keen on talking about himself.

“Obviously I would love to start and it would be one of the biggest games I have played for Bafana,” he said. “But everybody in this squad deserves to play, and that is why we have done well.”

It seems a far cry from a squad that has so often been accused of not playing with enough pride for the national jersey. If those accusations were ever true, they have lost all of their momentum over the last few days.

Bafana have never been more focused on a common goal, and Saturday’s clash will be one remembered for a very long time, regardless of the result.

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