Rare opportunity for Usuthu’s Zikalala to shine

2014-02-06 00:00

LIFE as a reserve goalkeeper can be testing. The fruit of hours of training are seldom seen, and for game after game the bench is where the player spends his 90 minutes.

If there are injuries or suspensions at some stage during the season, only then will a reserve goalkeeper get a crack at playing, and it is in these moments when he must take his opportunity and give the coach something to think about.

AmaZulu’s Philani Zikalala has done just that. Third in the pecking order behind club captain Tapuwa Kapini and Aubrey Mathibe at the start of the campaign, Zikalala has now played in both of Usuthu’s last two matches without conceding a goal. His performance in Tuesday night’s 1-0 win over Ajax Cape Town at Moses Mabhida Stadium was exemplary, and a string of fine saves in the second half won him the man of the match award on a night when AmaZulu were outplayed.

Kapini has been out with a concussion since last month, but is on his way back to health and will likely be available for Saturday’s clash against Moroka Swallows in Dobsonville. Mathibe was selected as Kapini’s replacement in January 23’s 1-1 draw against Orlando Pirates, but coach Craig Rosslee turned to the 30-year-old Zikalala for the SuperSport clash five days later.

“The coach came to me and told me that he was going to give me a chance,” said the former Nathi Lions shot stopper. “He told me to play without any pressure and that is what I did.”

Zikalala added that he was fully aware of Kapini’s imminent return, but that he will not bow down quietly.

“I am feeling good. I am really happy because I have been working hard at training,” he said. “I know that Kapini is coming back, but I am not giving up. I will keep pushing to play.”

It will be interesting to see how Rosslee manages the situation should Kapini be available for Swallows. How do you drop a player who has had two standout performances for a guy who has had his fair share of howlers already this season?

Whichever way he goes, though, Usuthu will go into the match brimming with confidence. The Carlington Nyadombo-marshalled defensive line may not be pretty at the moment, but they are doing just enough to keep their opposition out.

“I have been really happy with my back four,” said Zikalala, who highlighted the performance of left back Sifiso Hlanti on Tuesday night.

Hlanti, like Zikalala, is making the most of a rare opportunity to start as regular fullback Marc van Heerden continues his trial in Sweden with Orebro SK.

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