The days are rushing past, and so are the minutes and seconds before Bafana Bafana national coach Ephraim “Shakes” Mashaba is set to announce his final 22 players for the Nations Cup in Tunisia in January next year.
Already the coach is embroiled in a tug of war between himself and the European clubs. This country versus club issue has been going on since Bafana Bafana won the Nations Cup in 1996 and started exporting players.
This issue looks set to divide the supporters of the national team. Many have been calling for the reinstatement of Quinton Fortune, who has deserted the national team time and time again, and also for Mark Fish, who seems to have found it in himself to be available for team selection after an almost two-year absence from Bafana Bafana.
The likes of Steven Pienaar, Aaron Mokoena and Benedict McCarthy have told their agents that they will be only available four days before the tournament kick off. What makes things even more heated is the resignation of striker Shaun Bartlett, which left the strike force of the national team blunted.
When Mashaba finally selects his 22, will he have enough time to make them gel to take on the Nigerians, Morocco and Benin? Player availability during his build-up for Tunisia seems to be tough: will he have the necessary support from the players and supporters?
Mashaba is yet to choose his best team since taking over the coaching reins. He finds himself depending mainly on locally based players to win him his games.
He first used the local players to win the Council of Southern African Football Association (Cosafa) Cup and then used those players to qualify for the Nations Cup in Tunisia. Now crunch time has arrived for him to select a team that will both satisfy the association and soccer supporters.
The announcement of the squad to play Egypt and Tunisia this week saw a number of local players getting the nod over overseas players. Again Fortune was absent. Mashaba’s head will be on the block if he loses in Tunisia and the selection of his final 22 players is crucial to his stay at the helm of Bafana Bafana.
In 1996 Bafana Bafana won the Nations Cup and in 1998 they came second. In 2000 they played in the third and fourth playoff and in 2002 they lost in the quarterfinals. For Mashaba to win support, he will need to be cautious when he chooses his final 22 and in Tunisia he will need a miracle to bring back that trophy.
The players selected for the game on November 15 and 19 are:
Goalkeepers: Andre Arendse, who has been letting in goals at his club, Sundowns; Emile Baron, who is yet to prove himself.
Defenders: Mbulelo Mabizela, who has had sterling performances in the national team; Thabang Molefe; David Kannemeyer; Jacob Lekgetho; Aaron Mokoena; Tony Coyle, who has been suspect in his position at two; Sphiwe Mknonza.
Midfielders: This is the heart of the national team and is well-organised: Benson Mhlongo; Teboho Mokoena — questions linger why he continues to be selected for the national team; McBeth Sibaya; Jabu Pule, who has been sensational for both his club and the team; Steven Pienaar; John Moshoeu, who continues to prove to everyone that age is nothing but a number at 35 years; Delron Buckley; Japhet Zwane.
Strikers: Bafana Bafana must be worried as there has been a lack of a goal poacher: Patrick Mayo, who has been blowing cold and hot; Siyabonga Nomvete, the saviour of the team scoring all those crucial goals; Sibusiso Zuma; Benedict McCarthy; and Nkosinathi Nhleko — a surprise pick.
These are not the final 22 players for Tunisia but they are in line to be part of that team if they prove themselves in the next two games.