KZN player steps up

2013-08-14 00:00

BAFANA Bafana, still with the smallest of chances of qualifying for Brazil’s 2014 World Cup, are taking very seriously this evening’s Nelson Mandela Challenge clash at Moses Mabhida Stadium against African champions Nigeria.

It is the 19th successive year that the annual showpiece has taken place. However, Bafana have not won the trophy since 2009 when they defeated Norway 2-1 in Phokeng.

Silverware aside, tonight’s date with the Super Eagles is the first of two matches in which coach Gordon Igesund will be working on his combinations ahead of the crucial September 7 World Cup qualifier against Botswana, also in Durban.

Igesund has a squad of 22 fully fit players at his disposal following defender Anele Ngcongca’s controversial non-arrival from Belgian club Genk. He is likely to use almost all of his players tonight and in Saturday’s international friendly against Burkina Faso in Johannesburg. This is especially considering that his six Orlando Pirates players are unavailable for the latter fixture.

One man who desperately wants to make his mark on the international stage is AmaZulu’s Marc van Heerden. Replacing SuperSport United’s Innocent Mdledle (hamstring injury), Van Heerden offers Igesund an accomplished defensive ability as well as an educated left boot capable of delivering deadly free kicks and crosses.

“It’s been a long time. I’ve waited almost three years for this,” the 25-year-old said yesterday at the venue for tonight’s match. “It is a very proud moment for me and my family. When I was given the news on Sunday I had to ask my fiancée to pinch me because I didn’t think it was real.”

Van Heerden commended Igesund’s commitment to selecting players from all corners of the PSL and not just the “glamour” clubs from in and around Gauteng. “Gordon is looking at everybody so if you put the hard yards in then you will get recognised,” he said.

Sentimentalities aside, Van Heerden is all too aware that international football is serious business, and he plans on making the most of his opportunity.

“If I get my chance then I am just going to go out there and give it all I have,” he said.

With Igesund sceptical over Ngcongca’s absenteeism, there were concerns that the disruption to the planning may have a negative impact on Bafana’s spirit.

However, seasoned veteran Siphiwe Tshabalala, capped 70 times for Bafana, insists that the players are in exactly the right frame of mind.

“We are not dwelling on what has happened. Whoever is here deserves to be here and it will be an opportunity for some new players to get a chance,” the Kaizer Chiefs man said.

Speaking of tonight’s opposition, Tshabalala was under no illusions.

“It is a tough task playing the No 1 team in Africa. They are solid in all departments and we will have to be at our best.”

While a win and an improvement in the Fifa rankings is always considered important (Bafana are 67th and Nigeria 35th), all eyes tonight will be on whether or not Bafana can create and finish their chances — two departments that have been a nightmare over the last two years.

“We definitely have a plan to go out there and be positive,” commented Bafana’s midfield workhorse Dean Furman. “We know how difficult it will be, but we are desperate to go out there and win this game. Durban has always been a good place for us.”

Tonight’s match kicks off at 8.15 pm and will be televised on SuperSport Four and SABC 1.

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