JOHANNESBURG – Bafana Bafana captain Thulani Hlatshwayo believes the start of the domestic season this weekend will help the national players restore their physical and technical endurance ahead of the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers next month.
The South African senior national team played poorly in the recent back-to-back international friendlies.
They drew 1-1 with Cosafa rivals Namibia at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium last Thursday.
Three days later, on Sunday, they lost 2-1 to Zambia at the same venue in Rustenburg, despite taking the lead through a second-half goal from Keagan Dolly, who was teed up by Percy Tau.
That Dolly goal, however, merely proved to be a consolation as Kelvin Kampamba and Charles Zulu got Chipolopolo’s equaliser and winner respectively to hand coach Molefi Ntseki his second defeat as Bafana’s commander in chief.
These two friendlies were supposed to get the national team up to speed with competitive action – following a year-long absence due to the enforced Covid-19 break – as they will return to the Afcon qualifiers next month with back-to-back matches against Sao Tome and Principe.
Sure, it wasn’t the desired outcome for Ntseki’s charges but Hlatshwayo, whose nickname is Tyson, insisted that the short off-season played a key role in their downfall, while the start of the new season will give the locally-based national team players a much-needed shot in the arm.
“Our league is about to start now and hopefully the guys will get some game time in preparation of the clash against Sao Tome and Principe,” Hlatshwayo said. “As much as it was friendly matches, we have to win. So, it’s disappointing how things have worked out.”
In their pursuit to book their spot in the 2022 continental showpiece in Cameroon, South Africa are second in Group C with three points, three behind Ghana, who beat them 2-0 in the opening round.
The South Africans finally got their qualifying campaign up and running after they defeated Sudan 1-0 at Orlando Stadium, in the second match. However, come the double-header clash against Sao Tome and Principe there will be no room for error.
But do not expect Bafana to walk all over the islanders next month either. They have, after all, struggled against so-called minnows in the past, considering they left it late in the 2019 Afcon qualifiers – having failed to complete the double over lowly ranked Seychelles.
Ntseki, however, suggested that he will not follow in the footsteps of his predecessors who struggled against minnows as they’ll be ready for Sao Tome and Principe.
“We will be ready. Locally, the PSL is starting this weekend. The coaches and physical trainers at club level will prepare the players and we can only benefit from that in our preparations on the physical side,” Ntseki said.
“When it comes to the tactical side of the game, the players responded very well. It means that going into the game against Sao Tome and Principe, they’ll be ready physically because we’ve seen today (Sunday) that tactically we are at the level that we want to be.”