Young brigade carry future hopes

2010-09-03 00:00

ANY doubt about the beginning of a new era for Bafana Bafana would have been dispelled by the youthful make-up of coach Pitso Mosimane’s squad that will do duty in the African Cup of Nations qualifier against Niger at the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit tomorrow.

While Mosimane opted for experience over youth in his first match in charge, an impressive 1-0 friendly victory against World Cup quarter-finalists Ghana at FNB Stadium last month, the coach has recognised the need to begin to build for the future in his current mix of call-ups.

While the experience is still there to guide the youngsters in the form of captain and defender Aaron Mokoena and midfielders Macbeth Sibaya, Steven Pienaar and Siphiwe Tshabalala (who has over 50 caps but is still only 25), most of the rest of Mosimane’s squad to take on Niger has a distinctly youthful look to it.

Notably, the new Bafana coach has included five youngsters expected to have bright futures — Orlando Pirates right-back Happy Jele (23) and defensive midfielder Andile Jali (20), midfielder Daylon Claasen (20) of Lierse FC in Belgium, SuperSport United striker Kermit Erasmus (20) and Moroka Swallows defender Keegan Ritchie (20).

Of the five only Ritchie, something of a surprise inclusion, has not been called up before, with the other four players involved in Bafana’s pre-World Cup training camps in Durban, Brazil and Germany, though only highly-rated defensive midfielder Jali earned any official caps (three) in the warm-up matches.

Jali, Erasmus and Claasen were all part of the SA under-20 side that reached the last-16 of the U20 World Cup in Egypt last year, scoring three goals, with Claasen earning high praise as playmaker and captain of the side and Erasmus scoring three goals. The South Africans lost 2-1 to eventual winners Ghana in the group stages.

Erasmus has already played in Europe, having been loaned to Excelsior Rotterdam last season from Ajax Amsterdam, but has returned to the Premier Soccer League to earn more game time at his first professional club, SuperSport.

This youthful element will ensure that it is the squad Mosimane named for tomorrow’s Afcon qualifier in Nelspruit that will be remembered as the first paving-stone on the path to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

The five youngsters have ostensibly been included for experience rather than game time in a crucial qualifier Bafana must win to be on the front foot for their group — which includes Africa’s No.1-ranked team, Egypt — and might not see too much game time tomorrow. But even the more established element of the Bafana squad consists of players who will still be very much in their prime in 2014.

Lamontville Golden Arrows central midfielder Thanduyise Khuboni (24) was the subject of high praise from coach Carlos Alberto Parreira in the build-up to the World Cup, earning a place in the final squad and impressing greatly in Bafana’s 2-1 final group stages victory over France in Bloemfontein.

Bongani Khumalo, whose storming performances in central defence in the tournament have resulted in a transfer to Tottenham Hotspur in January, is still only 23. Anele Ngcongca, the Belgian-based defender who also impressed against France and appears to be edging his way to nailing down a first-team Bafana place at right-back, is just 22.

Left-back Tsepo Masilela, injury-prone but one of the national team’s most consistent players of the past two years, has 32 caps at 25 years of age, while it is easy to forget that Itumeleng Khune (30 caps) is still just 23, far below the prime age for a goalkeeper.

It is these emerging stars, and a few more who are guaranteed to be produced in the next three years, who will carry Bafana’s hopes as the next generation of players.

But first it seems crucial Bafana qualify for the 2012 Afcon in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea to have a tournament stage upon which Mosimane can forge his team into a strong unit, making a win against Niger all the more crucial.

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