Monday, 12 November 2012

No Tower. No Major. Let's hope Gordon Igesund hasn't made his first mistake as Bafana coach

Major mistake: Lehlohonolo Major is in fine form
WHEN Bafana Bafana entertain the reigning African champions Zambia on Wednesday night in honour of Nelson Mandela at Soccer City, two of the nation’s form players will be watching the game on the television.

Despite Gordon Igesund’s insistence that he would be “picking players who are doing well for their clubs” the two men who have kept Kaizer Chiefs at the top of the Professional Soccer League table do NOT feature in his squad for the Nelson Mandela Challenge this week.

Mulomowandau Mathoho and Lehlohonolo Majoro – perhaps better known as the Tower and the Major – have been the driving force behind the AmaKhosi’s hugely popular ascent to the top of the local tree. While Igesund spent last week visiting Everton’s Steven Pienaar and Norwich City’s Andrew Surman, Mathoho was a Tower of strength in Chiefs’ wins over Golden Arrows and SuperSport United.

Lest we forget, Bernard Parker scored all the Chiefs goals early on – including a remarkable four against AmaZulu – to force his way in to Gordon’s squad. But with Kingston Nkatha also weighing in up front, Majoro - despite his new, boring hairstyle - is currently the nation’s form goal-getter with five goals in four games. He now trails Parker by one, with six PSL strikes.

And at the back, it is Mathoho – along with Igesund’s favourite goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune – who has ensured the AmaKhosi have conceded a league-leading five goals in 11 games.

Chiefs boss Stuart Baxter, looking more comfortable by the week, said after Majoro had scored both goals in the 2-1 win over previously unbeaten SuperSport United, said: “Major dares me to leave him out of the starting line-up. He trains well and he looks so threatening. I have to pick him.”

And Mathoho, man of the match in the midweek 3-0 win over Golden Arrows, was overlooked yesterday when Igesund decided to call up team-mate Siboniso Gaxa to replace the injured Siya Sangweni in central defence.

Gaxa, like fellow squad members Anele Ngcongca (Racing Club Genk, Belgium), Ricardo Nunes (MSK Zilina), Punch Masenamela (Mamelodi Sundowns) and Thabo Nthethe (Bloemfontein Celtic) is more of a full-back than a central defender. Which leaves us with SuperSport United's Bevan Fransman to fill the a hole and stifle Zambia's big Pirate, Collins Mbesuma.

Thus far, Igesund has used Orlando Pirate Sangweni at centre-back next to captain Bongani Khumalo, currently strutting his stuff for PAOK in Greece. Given Sangweni’s knee injury, the failure to call up Tower is probably even more startling than the decision to overlook Majoro for his team-mate Parker, Tokelo Rantie, Katlego Mashego and Kermit Erasmus up front.

After his strirring efforts last week, Tower grinned: “Credit should go to each and every one in the team. I do not do it alone; we win as a team.

“We need to make sure that we follow our game plan. Winning can be a habit.”

It’s a habit Gordon MUST have by the time AFCON 2013 kicks off at the same Soccer City venue on January 19 against Cape Verde Islands. Still, Igesund does have another form player to turn to. Sifiso Myeni continues to impress in Orlando, scoring the only goal against Steve Komphela’s men on Saturday to put the Pirates second in the PSL.

Coach Roger de Sa, another boss who appears to be enjoying himself lately, said of the youngster he first groomed at Wits: “Sifiso? I’m delighted. With his form and his goal-scoring ability. I know him pretty well and he is playing with a lot of confidence.

“At the moment he is carrying us.”

Hopefully he will carry Gordon’s Bafana on Wednesday night too. But you can’t help thinking the Tower and the Major would have made his task that much easier. 

Gordon spent today's press conferences and media chats outlining his successes and failures on the whistle-stop tour of the UK last week.

He told us he talked to Norwich City's South African-born Andrew Surman and explained: "He didn't seem interested, so I left it at that."

And Igesund went to great lengths to insist he "only went for a cup of coffee" with Steven Pienaar, who announced his international retirement last month. Gordon repeatedly stressed: "The subject of Bafana didn't come up. I wasn't there to beg him to change his mind. He's a man. It was a tough decision. We have to respect that.

"I spoke to Steve about his family - there was some good news about his wife - and I discussed football with him and his coach, David Moyes. Stevie said how much he was enjoying his football. But he says because of the condition of his groin, he can only train twice a week and needs a day to recover afterwards.

Steven Pienaar has been a great ambassador for this country for ten years. He deserves recognition for that. That's why I saw him. Not to make him change his mind. We just had a cup of coffee, that's all. He talked about the differences between Spurs and Everton, stuff like that.

"Is the door closed for Pienaar? Will he ever play for South Africa again? Look, I will never close the door on any South African who wants to play for his country. That's how it is."

The good news came in the shape of Kagiso Dikgacoi at Crystal Palace and Dean Furman, the Oldham Athletic captain. Igesund explained: "I visited both of them. I met KD's new coach at Palace, Ian (Holloway) and he was full of praise for KD. He's made a place for himself there in a very competitive league. I watched him played in a defensive role against Ipswich.

"And I phoned Ian after Palace won over the weekend and KD scored. They are top of that league, he is doing well. Ian said he can playing attacking or defensive. They love him there.

"And with both Oldham and Palace, I got what I wanted. I asked them to release KD and Furman a week early. FIFA stipulates they only have to be released two weeks before the tournament. But I've got their clubs to agree to let me have them on January 1.

"That was why I made the trip. To get to know these managers. To build a relationship. Some games, against local sides, I won't call their players. It's give and take.

"Now I have to build that relationship, with the managers in Begium, Holland and Greece too. That is my job.

"I also spoke to David Somma at Leeds. He's been out of football for a long time with a knee ligament problem but he's played two games for the reserves and he's nearly there.

"It's the same for Thulani Serero at Ajax Amsterdam. He is training again too. But for all these players, Morgan Gould, Killer Mphela and Benni McCarthy, they are back in training but they have to play for their club teams before I can seriously consider them.

"It isn't too late for any of them. But it's getting late. We kick off AFCON on January 19. Time is limited."

A shortened version of this story will appear as my Neal and Pray column in tomorrow's The New Age. See

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