Hope for Bafana Bafana as SA exports shine in Europe
The imposing bulk of Kagisho Dikgacoi got through 90 minutes of determined work last weekend to help struggling Crystal Palace to boost not only their survival chances but also severely dent London rivals Chelsea's hopes of Premier League ultimate victory.
Dikgacoi might have battled with niggling injuries throughout the season but his value in the biggest league of the world was all too evident as Palace put him straight back into the side after his latest affliction and saw him as key to winning the midfield tussle in the 1-0 triumph.
It was one of a growing list of recent highlights for South African footballing exports to Europe, which provides a bright ray of hope for future Bafana Bafana prospects, if the coach can get the mix right.
Thulani Serero sits on the verge of winning the Dutch championship and is being tipped as a potential candidate for the country's Footballer of the Year award.
Former Ajax Amsterdam great Johnny Rep chose him as the player of the league last weekend as Ajax beat FC Twente 3-0 to move to within two victories of retaining their title. "He stood out, even in the first half when Ajax struggled. He has a great engine, is really quick and for such a small guy carries a lot of power in his body," said the former Dutch international in the De Telegraaf daily in a regular column that looks back on the previous weekend's league action.
Serero is in line for the "Dutch double" with Ajax, having also reached the cup final in what is now his third season at the club, but the first in which he has been a regular.
"It is clearer now why [Ajax coach] Frank de Boer has so much confidence in him," added Rep.
Just two weeks ago the 21-year-old Ayanda Patosi was on the bench as Lokeren won the Belgian Cup, something of an irritation for the Cape Town-born midfielder who is now looking to move on to a bigger challenge. There should be no lack of takers for a prodigious talent, who has battled with knee and Achilles problems but when injury-free delivered a consistent level of performance that has had him ranked in the top 10 players in the Belgian league.
Last season Darren Keet was considered the league's top goalkeeper after moving to the obscurity of Kortrijk, where he moved from Bidvest Wits in a desperate bid for some European exposure. He is also likely to make an upward move in the off-season.
Seven seasons for Anele Ngcongca, including participation in the Uefa Champions League, have made the right-back a firm favourite at Racing Genk, but the Belgian provincial outfit suffered a sudden slip this season and Cape Town-born Ngcongca has been criticised for a loss of form and been the subject of suggestions he is now due for fresher horizons.
But Belgium is still set for a considerable South African flavour next season when Andile Jali takes off, as expected, at Oostende. He has had a bit of a shaky start since his January move from Orlando Pirates, taking several weeks to get a run in the team, then coming home to sort out his work visa and being involved in a car accident that killed two people in the other car. But he was back last weekend and got a full 90-minute run in a league in which his talents will surely shine through.
That he ended up at Oostende rather than a bigger club such as Anderlecht, which had been tracking him for 18 months is something of a mystery but Jali was also desperate to swap the Premier Soccer League for a chance to test himself in Europe, even in the potential anonymity of the Belgian coastal town.
Mark Mayambela's hopes of resurrecting his career in Sweden are on track after his surprise signing for Djurgardens. This after being drummed out of Mpumalanga Black Aces last year for allegedly arriving drunk at training. He did not crack it at Pirates before that either. He battled to complete matches when he was at Bloemfontein Celtic, which sent him for extensive medical tests to see why he had lacked endurance.
What Mayambela does have, though, is a dazzling array of skills, which will certainly bemuse the Swedes. He was due to debut last weekend but Djurgardens' contest with Helsingborg was called off after just half an hour after a supporter was killed in violent clashes before the game.
Across the bridge in Denmark, Lebogang Phiri is supposedly the next best thing on the horizon for Bafana Bafana. A former Wits junior, he is at Brøndby, which has an exchange agreement with the Johannesburg club – and a name many predict will soon be a national-team regular.