Bafana Bafana and Orlando Pirates defender Innocent Maela is among a handful of South African players who have crisscrossed the continent during the Covid-19 pandemic while on duty for club and country.
The 28-year-old has lost count of how many times he has taken Covid-19 tests, as this has become mandatory for footballers.
Luckily this time, Maela and his club team-mates will not be on the next plane out of the country.
Bucs host Ahli Benghazi of Libya in the return leg of the CAF Confederation Cup group game at Orlando Stadium in Soweto tonight. Kick-off is at 6pm.
“It’s a different challenge travelling in the Covid-19 pandemic. You must be at the airport early to undergo the Covid-19 screening.
“In addition to a test done before you leave, you do another one when you land in another country and again 48 hours before a match,” Maela told City Press this week.
He featured in three of the four recent Bafana Afcon qualifiers, as well as in Pirates’s two group matches. He missed the first leg against Benghazi in Libya last Sunday, following an injury while on national duty in Sudan.
Deco, as Maela is affectionately called by his peers, says his time with the national team has prepared him for the continental battles at club level – on and off the field.
“The four years I have been in the national team set-up have helped with experience, especially adapting to travelling around the continent because, when you start, it can be difficult,” said Maela.
He earned his debut cap for Bafana against Tanzania in the Cosafa Cup in July 2017. He now has 10 caps and was part of the South African squad that reached the Afcon quarterfinals in Egypt two years ago.
The player from Emalahleni in Mpumalanga is hoping to progress with Pirates in the Confederation Cup after he saw his dream of a second bite at the Afcon finals dashed after a 2-0 loss to Sudan in Khartoum recently.
Maela has been part of the Bucs CAF journey so far and was well-placed to comment on his club’s prospects in their bid to conquer the second-tier continental club competition.
“Our goal is to qualify for the knockout stage and we have enough depth in our squad to go all the way,” he said.
Other key Pirates players who will miss the game in Soweto are Thembinkosi Lorch and Bongani Sam.
In Maela’s absence, coach Josef Zinnbauer has been deploying Paseka Mako in the left-back slot.
The German tactician raised eyebrows when he played midfielder Siphesihle Ndlovu as a makeshift right-back in last weekend’s game.
The coach hinted at a possible reshuffle at the back on the basis that natural candidates for that slot, Abel Mabaso and Wayde Jooste, were fully recovered from injuries.
Zinnbauer will need all his trusted men now that competition has reached the halfway mark.
Pirates remain the only unbeaten side in a group that includes Enyimba of Nigeria and ES Sétif of Algeria, who Bucs face in their final two fixtures.
With five points already in the bag, a win for Pirates will put them in a good position to progress to the knock-out stage of the competition.
Enyimba, who lead Group A on six points, take on Sétif in another fixture tonight.