Khumalo glad to be back in SA set-up

2013-09-04 00:00

AS Bafana Bafana assembled for training at Durban’s People’s Park yesterday morning in preparation for Saturday’s 2014 World Cup qualifier against Botswana, there was a feeling of familiarity about proceedings.

Even though five Orlando Pirates players — Senzo Meyiwa, Thabo Matlaba, Oupa Manyisa, Andile Jali and Daine Klate — were still on their way to Durban after CAF Champions League duty in Egypt, the presence of centre back and former captain Bongani Khumalo gave the squad a similar look to the one that battled their way to the quarter-finals of Afcon 2013 in January and February.

Since then, Khumalo has been overlooked by Gordon Igesund, but the 26-year-old is back for what is undoubtedly Bafana’s most important game since that dreaded Afcon quarter-final on February 2 when Bafana went out to Mali on penalties.

Khumalo is as calm and soft spoken now as we he was back then, and refuses to treat this game any differently to the ones he has played in before.

“Competitions change, but every game that you play for your country is important,” he said after yesterday’s training session.

“Obviously it is very important to get a result and it’s good to be back in the set-up for such a big game,” he added.

Khumalo and Bafana midfielder Dean Furman play together at Rovers, but that would not give Igesund’s man any added advantage.

“I have played with Dean at national level before,” said Khumalo. “I think any combinations that can be formed between any players are good for the team.”

While Furman and Khumalo ply their trade in the English Championship, Kagisho Dikgacoi has made the step up to the Premier League with Crystal Palace this season.

But even though he is playing regularly in one of the world’s biggest leagues, Dikgacoi is no certainty to start as Igesund has Furman, Reneilwe Letsholonyane and the uncapped Kamohelo Mokotjo in the holding midfield capacity.

“There is definitely tight competition for starting places in the squad,” Dikgacoi said. “Dean [Furman] and Yeye [Letsholonyane] have both been playing well together.”

Dikgacoi added that he was in “a positive frame of mind” and that he was prepared to work hard for a starting place, a viewpoint shared by Mokotjo.

“I have been given the call-up and now I have to show the coach what I can do at training,” the PEC Zwolle defensive midfielder said.

“I know that not many people in South Africa know me, so I want to show them what I can do.”

The squad will train at People’s Park again today, where all 23 squad members are expected to be present.

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