Fernandez eyes Bafana return

Former Bafana Bafana first-choice goalkeeper Rowen Fernandez wants his place back in the national side—and he aims to fight for it.

And the Arminia Bielefeld keeper is prepared to do whatever it takes to become a regular member of Bafana head coach Joel Santana’s squad with the 2010 World Cup and Confederations Cup around the corner.

The former Wits and Kaizer Chiefs star returned to action at the start of January with his Bundesliga club after a five-month lay-off due to a damaged cruciate knee ligament.

Said Fernandez after finishing training with Bundesliga side in the German city Bielefeld this week: “I have one message to those who covet the Bafana goalkeeping jersey—don’t get too comfortable. I am out of sight but I hope I am not out of mind. I am determined to get my place back both at club and national level.”

Fernandez, who at 30 said he was getting into his prime years, was confident he would soon be back as the Bielefeld number one keeper.
“It is not if, but when. I will be number one at Bielefeld and soon. It is a matter of time. I was on the bench at the weekend when we travelled to Bremen to play [Werder] Bremen and won 2-1. That was a big away win for us and moved us four points away from the relegation places. I have played in a number of friendly games and feel stronger every day.”

Fernandez said while he was determined to add to his 19 caps for Bafana. He also has a lot of unfilled ambitions.

Explained the Springs-born keeper: “I would like to play in England but to do that I need caps and to keep playing regularly for my country. So that is one reason for getting back my place in Bafana. But obviously I want to feature at both the Confederations Cup and 2010 World Cup finals. These are two opportunities I do not want to miss. It is a chance of a lifetime and I do not want to miss out.”

Fernandez was disappointed that he will not be part of the squad to play Chile in a friendly international at Polokwane’s Peter Mokaba Stadium next Wednesday (February 11). Santana names his squad to play the South Americans on Thursday.

Said Fernandez: “I have been training fully since the New Year. My injury has healed perfectly and I would have loved just to be part of the Bafana squad again. But there are other friendly matches against Norway and Portugal in which I hope I will be given the opportunity to win my place back.

Fernandez was dropped by Santana after Nigeria defeated Bafana 2-0 in the opening Africa Cup of Nations qualifier in Abuja on June 1 last year. It appears he blamed Fernandez for that loss.

Fernandez was one of the better performers—if not the man of the match—that afternoon, and had it not been for his skills and saves, the defeat would have been a lot worse.

Other keepers in the national squad have made bad mistakes and yet they have been given another chance.

But there is no question Bafana needs Fernandez’s experience during the build-up to the Confederations Cup. The man who took his place after Abuja is his former Amakhosi teammate and deputy, Itumeleng Khune, who at 21 still has a long way to go in terms of experience. Khune is the best prospect that has emerged since South Africa was re-admitted to the international arena in 1992, and Fernandez could help him develop into a world-class goalkeeper.

Fernandez said his game had improved playing for 18 months in one of the most competitive leagues in Europe. “At 30 I am getting to my peak as a keeper. But I want to go higher and I am confident I can once again regain my place in the Bafana squad and reach my goal of playing in England for a top Premiership side.

“But first I must get ready and roll up my sleeves and make sure the lads back home know I am not giving up. I am going to fight tooth and nail to get the Bafana number one jersey back.—Sapa

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