Bafana's Fernandez up for the challenge

Rowen Fernandez is a man with a mission—and that is to reclaim the goalkeeping jersey for Bafana Bafana. He hopes to get his chance on Saturday when Bafana play Norway in the annual Nelson Mandela Challenge at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium at 3pm.

Fernandez has been out in the cold since June last year when Bafana lost 2-0 to Nigeria in their opening 2010 African Nations Cup qualifier in Abuja. Despite playing a blinder that afternoon, new Bafana coach Joel Santana appeared to blame the Arminia Bielefeld keeper and he has been out in the cold ever since.

But injuries have also plagued Fernandez, who returned to duty for his Bundesliga club in January.

He also returns to Bafana at the right time—in more ways than one.
Itumeleng Khune, who replaced Fernandez at Kaizer Chiefs when Fernandez joined Bielefeld a season ago and as Bafana´s number one keeper last June, is going through a rough patch. But Fernandez is adamant he would support his former Chiefs teammate.

Said Fernandez: “Goalkeepers always support each other and I will work hard with both Khune and Calvin [Marlin] this week. We will help each other as usual.”

Khune was blame for two goals in Amakhosi´s 4-3 loss to First Division outfit Pretoria University in the Nedbank Cup second round clash at the Super Stadium last Saturday.

Khune was brilliant when he replaced Fernandez last season, but this season he has found the going a lot tougher as regards experience and at 21, he is a big talent for the future.

Santana was again evasive when asked about his goalkeeping problem, but it is clear the more experienced Fernandez will get some game time in the friendly matches against Norway, and against Portugal next Tuesday in Switzerland, which will be Bafana´s final preparation matches before the squad is selected for June’s Confederation Cup.

Said Fernandez: “I have recovered from my injuries and with two months to go to the Confederations Cup, I seem to have picked a good time to make a comeback to Bafana. I am delighted the coach recalled me—now it is up to me to work hard and fight to get my place back.”

Fernandez warned Norway would be no pushovers. “Norway recently beat Germany 1-0 in Germany. I watched that game and it was no mean feat by the tough as teak Norwegians. Not many sides can come away from Germany with a win and that should warn us that Norway are a class side and will be hard to beat.”

Fernandez also made a plea to the fans to get behind Bafana in Rustenburg as they did when a capacity crowd at the nearby Olympia Park encouraged Bafana to a 3-2 win over Cameroon last November.

Said Fernandez: “Our fans are unique. I miss them, the vuvuzellas, the signing and the passion when I play in Germany. There are no fans as good as our in the world. They are like a 12th man to us and we need them against Norway on Saturday.

“A capacity crowd will lift the players. If they do their thing in the stands, I promise the players will respond on the pitch and give them plenty to cheer about.”—Sapa

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